Sunday, November 24, 2013

Handling the Holidays Post Betrayal

I am writing this especially for women who have been married to men whom they later found out were gay, and who feel betrayed by the experience. However, these thoughts also apply to all who have experienced a betrayal of their love and trust in intimate relationships.

“Betrayal” is from the Latin tradere, which means to hand over. It may be ironic to think of “handling” the holidays after all that was promised you has been handed over to another. However, it is a reminder to “get a handle” on your own life again and receive it back with strong and gentle hands of your own. 

The “you” that you get back may feel like a victim of kidnapping who needs to learn how to trust again and, in the meantime, needs to know that she/he is being kept safe.

So, your main goal in holiday times is to keep yourself safe. I find it interesting that “safe” and “salvage” have the same origin. The root is save. In one sense, your task is to save yourself from further injury. In another sense, it is to save what remains and make repair, to salvage. When combined, the task is to keep safe and make repair. 

Here are some suggestions for staying safe and making repairs to your soul in holiday times.

  • Enter the holidays with a meditation or prayer of gratitude for your life. The holidays, no matter the religious tradition, are about reconnecting you to THE ALL that makes you whole.  Ask God or your best and highest sense of self to help you see opportunities to connect to what is life affirming. 

  • Let go of expectations that anything will be quite the same. Why should it be? You’ve experienced something radical that can’t be un-experienced. So your perceptions and experiences will be different. 

  • Do old rituals that you have enjoyed but do them with a significant difference. If only you and your immediate family decorated on a certain day for the holidays, then perhaps agree with a friend to help each other decorate. It is a way to establish what is called the “new normal.”

  • Plan ahead regarding food and drink. It is fine to enjoy the holiday treats, but put a reminder card in your purse or wallet that prompts you to take care of your body. Refuse to betray yourself by overeating or making trouble for yourself with alcohol.

  • Pace yourself so that you have time to rest. It is better to do less, but be truly present, than to do more and feel burned out.  

  • Beware of trying to make up for the absence of your child’s/children’s parent (if you have been married with children) with more activities or gifts. They, too, need to grieve and need you demonstrate that relationships and not things are what matter most. 

  • Create a new tradition. Choose something to which you can assign a meaning that supports life and love, even if you don’t feel like it. 

  • Make use of candles as they may be used in your religious tradition. For Christians, candles are a reminder that the “Light of the World” came into the world in the darkest night of the year. Those in the Jewish tradition remember the miraculous oil that kept the sacred lamp lit following victory over their persecutors. Again, the light of promise had been with them even in dark times.

  • Exercise! It releases very helpful neuro-chemicals, dispels toxins, and aids with sleep.

  • Sleep! Sleep is absolutely necessary to release certain hormones that are required to repair our bodies. Lack of sleep results in stress and the release of corrosive cortisol that can drain our adrenal glands and result in fatigue.

  • Be conservative with your spending. You can’t shop your way out of grief or pain. If possible, make things with the help of others that convey the love of your heart. 

  • Pause and think before you either accept or reject an invitation or opportunity. Will it contribute to your wellbeing? Are you saying “yes” out of love or out of obligation? Are you saying “no” out of fear or self-empowerment? 

Take good care of yourself. And if I may be helpful in navigating the holidays, please call me! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Embracing the Mystery of Travel -- How Taking a Trip Can Become a Sacred Journey

This article first appeared in the Sept./Oct. edition of Unite Magazine.

On the cusp of high school, I experienced my first adventure abroad. The Ambassador’s Chorale was bound for two weeks of singing our way across Switzerland. Singers ranged in age from those, like me, who had just finished middle school to those about to  complete high school. In addition to taking me to a foreign country, this trip was the beginning of my journey of self-discovery. Among those high school aged singers was a bass whom I fell for, hard!  And, although I had a passport to enter a foreign country friendly to visitors, the territory of my own inner experience seemed dangerous. 

It’s been a long journey from those youthful days when I was hardly at home in my own body until now. Now I can feel at home no matter where I am.  And it was that sense of inner hospitality that empowered me in 2011 to pick up roots in San Diego and venture into a whole new community of colleagues and friends as I began to establish my life and private practice here in Nashville. 

As the journey inward can prepare us to pick up and go to a new location, so, too, travel can invite us to find our way to new vistas within. Here are some thoughts for your travels -- around the neighborhood and world, in and around your own heart.

  • Be mindful of the journey as well as the destination. The floors of many cathedrals encompass labyrinths (maze-like designs). In the days when religions encouraged pilgrimages to holy sites, not everyone could afford the necessary travel. Instead they could fulfill the quest by slowly and mindfully traversing a labyrinth, contemplating their own lives in view of the light that shone from a distant shrine. This experience underscored the idea that what takes place along the way is as important as arriving somewhere.  Likewise, a trip to the market for daily groceries can provide opportunity to notice our own inner life. Are we in a state of anxiety? Do we notice the beauty in the ordinary? Do we have a sense of gratitude for daily food? Are we open to chance and not-so-chance encounters along the way?

  • Maps are a good investment, but they are not the journey. And they most certainly are not the territory. We all have maps by which to navigate new territory; we plan our lives in many ways.  Although such maps are helpful, each of us has an inner compass that also must be respected. When the needle of that compass quivers with intuitive warning that we are going in the wrong direction or about to heed the advice of those whose certainty may simply be self-serving, do we pause and reflect? We all know that even MapQuest and Siri are not always to be believed. At times we have to call on our inner compass to verify or challenge the directions on our maps. Before we pass judgment on new places, it is best to be present with respectful non-judgment, open to developing understanding of others. This reflection often leads to deeper understanding of self.

  • Sightseeing can be fun; seeing with the mind and heart can be insightful. Visiting last year a friend who lives in the ex-pat village of Ajijic, Mexico, I let the amateur anthropologist and sociologist in me do the looking and asking. I was fortunate to learn the back-stories of some of the locals, native-born peoples and resident guests. The whole scene took on new and deeper meaning than what would have met the eye alone. Alone, my eyes project interpretation onto the scene. But with the back-stories came new light. Enlightening my appreciation for the people provided an opportunity to learn about my own self.

  • Accepting mystery enriches life’s experiences. Successful people are agenda-led people; they plan their work and work their plan. True, we all need to be clear about where we are going or at least where we clearly intend to be going. But mystery has a way of stepping into our well-ordered plans, diverting us from our course. Taken as frustration to our itinerary, mystery leaves us in the dark. But when we invite the true meaning of mystery into the experience (mysterion = a secret being revealed), we have an opportunity to get back into our bodies and inner lives. We are not, after all, human doings but human beings. The ability to truly “be” with oneself is the most necessary preparation for the adventure with others along the way. 

So, here’s to the trails, paths, flights, cruises, adventures, trips, and sojourns before us. May they thrill, inspire, educate, renew, and refresh us. And most of all, may they lead us to know more fully the territory of our own souls and of those we encounter along the way. 

Dr. Brian Hooper

Saturday, October 5, 2013

When You’ve Said “I Do,” And Now You Need to Say, “I Don’t”

This article first appeared in the March/April, 2013 edition of Unite Magazine.

If you are a gay man who married a woman, you most likely did so because you loved her, believed you were doing the “right thing,” and thought that your attraction to men would just go away or somehow not matter, if you even consciously acknowledged it in the first place.  

But, in the paraphrased wisdom of Carl Jung, father of analytical psychotherapy, “What we resist persists.” And eventually the walls of compartmentalization grow thin, deteriorate, and the two selves must meet and figure out how to work together. Not to integrate the two sends the energetic struggle underground and that results is dis-integration (a pulling apart the sense of who we are at our core) that manifests in anxiety, depression, and behavior such as intentional deception,  alcohol and substance abuse, indiscriminate and dangerous sexual behavior, self-sabotage, and estrangement from one’s wife often prompted by a combination of withdrawal and blaming her for the husband’s dilemma.

So, what to do if this is your situation?

  • Start by looking in the mirror and coming out to yourself by saying aloud, “I am gay.”  Sounds easy, right? If it is so easy, why do so many gay men lead double lives? The most important person to accept you is you.

  • Get ready. Some wives will be relieved. They knew something was wrong, but could not figure it out, or thought this might be the case, but took a cue from their husbands and denied it. Others, however, will be irate and seek to retaliate -- draining finances, attacking  character, and seeking to withhold access to the couple’s children. Know your rights and have a plan to take care of yourself.

  • Tell her the truth. No matter how you package this, it will be the hardest day of your life. And it will feel like death because it is. Self deception and deception of others must die if you are to be raised into the fullness of who you know you are at the core. She deserves the truth, and so do you.

  • Be prepared to answer questions. You may not want to go into exact details for all questions, but know that she is asking in part to grasp this new reality. You know you are the same person, but she may have the sense that she does not know you at all. Be patient. Your direct and clear answers help her to understand. Remember, it has taken you some time to put this all together yourself. 

  • Children often know what is going on, even before their parents “have the talk.” Tell children the truth in terms that they are capable of understanding for their age and development. No matter their ages, they need to know that the parting of their parents is not their fault. How you navigate this with their mother will either help hold their world together or further shatter it. 

  • Get into a healthy support group or work with a gay affirming psychotherapist. There will be so much more to work on within yourself once you are “out.” In fact, our lives as gay men is a constant unfolding and coming out to others and ourselves. But they are  also a daily invitation to be truly alive!

As a gay man, an ordained pastor of over 25 years, and a licensed psychotherapist, I stand in awe of the transformation that can happen when gay men come out to themselves, and subsequently to others. To be witness to this is, for me, to witness something that is truly reflective of the work of the Holy One, because once men experience wholeness in themselves, their relationships can now be whole and real and alive. And for the first time, they can say “I do” in the most genuine way possible! 

Dr. Brian Hooper

Friday, October 4, 2013

Self-Esteem is Hand Crafted

This article first appeared in the winter 2012/2013 issue of the online magazine B.Real.

No one can give you self-esteem. You have to build it yourself. 

  1. Accept who you are where you are. You may not have the past you wish you had, made the choices you wish you’d made, or had the family or education that might have made self-esteem more natural. But here you are. Look into the mirror of your life (and a literal one when you have a chance) and say, “I acknowledge and accept you.” 

  1. Take a look at anything that you are doing that is detrimental to your own good and write those things down. Here are some common ones: drink too much, get over my head in debt, date emotionally unavailable people, blame others, fail to get organized, etc.

  1. Choose one of the items you’ve listed and make a list of everything you can think of to make changes that will help you to stop that one behavior. Make sure to include ideas that will take you to the opposite, more positive behavior. For instance, if you are always missing opportunities because you are missing appointments, you might sort through and discard a pile of paper scraps and transfer the important notes onto a calendar. 

  1. With each accomplishment, take a few moments to relax and note how this feels in your body. Enjoy the subtle feeling of being a bit lighter. Note the sense of accomplishment. Imagine how this organization expands into all areas of your life. 

  1. Keep a growing list of each accomplishment. Watch the list of accomplishments grow even as the list of needed changes diminishes.

With each accomplishment, you are building your reputation with yourself, “I’m organized,” or “I take care of my body,” or “I only choose to be in healthy relationships,” or whatever your desired goals may be.

No one but you can give yourself the gift of self-esteem. It begins with the foundation of self-acceptance and is handcrafted from there. And while you build it, it’s always fine to ask for help when you need it. 

Dr. Brian Hooper

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hypnosis Wakes You Up!

This article first appeared in the summer edition of Be Real Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to holistic health.

Hypnosis Wakes You Up!

Hypnosis is often thought of as a kind of sleep. The very root of the word is from the Greek god of sleep -- Hypnos. But hypnosis is actually a way to be more awake to life and to your own potential.

There are two types of hypnosis -- direct suggestion and hypnoanalysis. Direct suggestion is well described by its name. It utilizes suggestions of desired experiences and outcomes while you are in a state of relaxation. And it does this based upon very clearly stated desires and goals. In the first step in this process of hypnosis the hypnotherapist helps you to be very clear about what you desire. And even the process of clarification can have a profound effect. This is where the “waking up” part begins to make itself known.

The other type of hypnosis, hypnoanalysis, is used to help you move beyond a place of being “stuck” in thoughts or behaviors rooted in your past. It is used to bring what is deeply held in the subconscious closer to the surface for examination, resolution, and integration into your life. 

In this article, I will focus on the first type -- direct hypnosis.

Here is the key to direct hypnosis, “You will always move in the direction of your most dominant thought!”

Think about it. You first see your dream car in a magazine and you devour the article. Next, you note the same car on the road. Then you find yourself imagining what it would be like to drive that car. You probably even talk about the car with friends and maybe do a web search to find it. As the momentum builds, you consider your expenses and begin to consider how you might finance the car. And soon you find yourself visiting the showroom. Long before you sign the paper and make the car your own, you’ve experienced owning it!

That’s a good example of direct hypnosis. Those entranced sessions of reading the article in the magazine, looking at the specifics on line, the self-talk, and even those glassy eyed conversations with friends about it are all experiences of subtle hypnotic states that were already making you an owner. 

Again, “You will always move in the direction of your most dominant thought!” That’s the key to using hypnosis to awaken you to the achievement of your goals.

Here are steps in outline form:

  1. Be clear about what you desire -- employment, degree, car, etc.

  1. Relax and let your imagination explore what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, etc. to achieve and live with that desired goal. 

  1. Sit comfortably (you don’t want to fall asleep) and relax. Allow your eyes to gently go closed as you imagine with fullest details what it is that you desire. Include as many sensations a possible -- sight, touch, sound, smell, taste, and perhaps most important -- emotion.

  1. As you sit with this vivid experience, begin to rehearse the ways that you keep this a priority in your life. For instance, “I go contentedly to sleep each night knowing that I’m making this goal a reality.” Or, “I effortlessly prioritize my hours, days, and weeks to acquire my goal.” Be as creative as possible!

With these four simple steps, you are consciously awake to your life and priorities even while you are subconsciously programing yourself to achieve what you desire.

All of us go through our days with attitudes about ourselves and the world around us. 
Hypnosis is not simply “positive thinking,” but “fully becoming” by choosing our most dominant thought and living that thought into its fulfillment. 

The first step toward any great destiny begins with a desire. Hypnosis can help you wake up to that. And if you need a little help with your wakeup call, call me.

Dr. Brian Hooper

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gay Marriage Pronouncements and the Internal Dialogue of Adolescents

Yet again, another denomination has recently decided that a core requirement of their fidelity to the Good News of Jesus is to make sure, one more time that the world knows that they are against same sex marriage. 
I wonder if they recognize the grievous message that this anti-gay marriage stance conveys to the adolescents in their churches who are beginning to recognize an internal attraction to members of the same sex, and how it affects the way adults who feel compelled to support this position parent them. 
Think, for a moment, back to the time when you were an adolescent. And I ask my heterosexual readers to ponder a) when you “decided” to be attracted to the opposite sex, and b) how awkward in general you felt, even with the social cues that said this attraction was acceptable. Add an additional degree of humiliation if you were generally uncomfortable in your own skin. Now, just for a moment, imagine the plight of a same sex attracted youth. He/She has heard nothing but condemnation of attraction to the same sex. Yet, this is his/her experience. It was not chosen. It just is! 
Far from being haters of God, these same youth are often raised in the life of their church and love the religious and social aspects of their faith communities. But, they are told that they have made a choice to feel feelings that are condemned. At the same time, their heterosexual peers are asked by their religious leaders to channel those same feelings towards a path to faithful commitment. The feelings of the straight youth are not, per se, condemned, but the same feelings in gay and lesbian youth are. Neither straight or gay youth chose the feelings they are feeling. 
This is the text of their lives-- their own internal story. And if the texts of sacred scripture are intended to help us be wholly available to the Holy One with the whole of our lives, then it is disingenuous to simply disregard the internal dialogue of our youth. To do so makes part of who they are unavailable -- hiding it deep inside so that no one may detect it. They too, often cut off this part of themselves from a conversation with God. 
Unlike the mechanical voice of an automobile’s GPS that simply gives direction and does not permit conversation, sacred scripture is a dialogue partner with the faithful on their journey.  To tell our youth to suppress their own internal dialogue, to deny it or reject it, is to silence the dialogue. And yet, this is the method of many denominations -- “We know what Scripture says and we don’t need to hear from you.” Such authoritative announcements have been wrong.  Thanks to Copernicus and Galileo, the church no longer teaches that the sun revolves around the earth. The universe did not change; the church did. In this change, the church was invited to trust the Lord of the universe over  faith in their system of faith.
Parents, encouraged by religious or other motivations, often refuse to dialogue with  gay and lesbian youth, opting for dismissing their children’s own self report and replacing it with another imposed “story” of their creation. In so doing, they reject their children. Where gay and lesbian youth are reject, we see higher rates of depression, suicide, homelessness, and risky sexual behavior. 
Are these documented negative outcomes preferred over living in a loving way with youth that invites dialogue, a dialogue that runs the risk that how one sees their family universe might just be subject to change? Is it better to embrace and put faith in a denomination’s pronouncement about one’s children or to embrace one’s children and put faith in God in the midst of what one does not fully comprehend?  
Let the dialogue begin; begin by listening. Deaf authorities have already said enough. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Water of Life­ Plunging into the True Meaning of an Ancient Christian Sacrament

Many religions honor the sea as the place from which all life emerges. Yet, the sea is a dark and mysterious place. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of the Leviathan (sea monster) that plays in its deep places (Psalm 74). We are fascinated by the sea's power and make movies about perfect storms and unsinkable ships. We are compelled to dive into the ocean's depths. We watch movies and read books as a way of entering into the depths of our own psyches and that primordial churning sea from which we all came from.

And why? We do this so that those things that keep us from experiencing "real life" may be drowned and that we may emerge to new life­ gasping for air as we come to the surface and riding the wave of holy compassion onto the shore of ever-new beginnings. Every step of this internal process is very much a part of the plunging/washing/birthing ritual of Christian Baptism.

The sacrament of Baptism has a torrent of flowing water behind it­ water that receded from the earth and brought forth dry land in the ancient Hebrew account of creation, the flood of Noah that washed the earth for a new beginning, and the parting of the Red Sea so that an oppressed people might be liberated.

One of the earliest instructions for Baptism is found in the document called the Didache (circa 60AD/CE). It requires that candidates for the Christian sacrament be baptized in living water, not standing or stagnant, but water able to wash, hydrate and refresh. An ideal baptism is more akin to a wave that one can ride into the heart of God than a puddle in a finger bowl.

Why not still water? Because the sacrament is a call to enter the river of life with God: to take the plunge into the ever-moving stream of re-creative grace. Many churches today have baptisteries in which the water in the font is flowing freely­imaging the ever-moving life of God.

As a pastoral psychotherapist and collegiate chaplain among post-post-GenXers swimming in a sea of existential questions, I sometimes recoil at the presentation of this vital rite as a mere washing away of past transgressions or as a sign of the believer's zealous choice for God. Those are but consequences of the life-changing cataclysm of Divine Love. This Love cascades into the world without the will or invitation of humanity, drowning old, deadening paradigms and awakening the believer to the bracing spray of life-giving and life-changing love. It is this flow from God that is at the heart of the mystery of Christian faith. Now that is imagery able to quench the thirst of a generation that desires to drink in a new and renewing vision of this small oasis on which we live in the middle of the star-lit sea we call our universe!
There is little wonder why the Didache called for baptism to take place in running water. This "living water" baptism was originally a call to be carried along in the stream of new birth that flows from the womb of divine grace. So to be "born from above," to use the language of the Gospel of St. John, is not so much about choosing a set of propositions to say yes to, but in finding that God's Divine "Yes" overwhelms the baptized in the flood of gracious love, acceptance, reconciliation, affirmation, and new life.

In other words, the vital part of this living stream is not so much the believer's "yes" to God, but God's "yes" that births the newly baptized into a new relationship with God, self, and all of creation. For those of the Christian tradition, it is high time to realize the course-changing torrent of re-creative grace that is this sacrament and not to "water it down." It is time to permit this water to flow through us to refresh those who thirst for justice, to quench hearts parched for peace and to refresh with grace those who long for relief from the scorching heat of fear, guilt or shame.

In Baptism, we are named as God's own and commissioned to serve all of humanity. For those in other spiritual traditions, every encounter with water-splash, sprinkle, downpour or dive­ can be a call to return to the depths of the sea from which we first emerged, to recognize the mysterious grace of life that connects us with all other water-sustained creatures, to permit compassion to wash over our hearts and to drink freely of that deep river that connects the souls of all of humanity.