commitment

Chaos and the Big Sleep

READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

“Everybody is somebody—but on any given day there is somebody who feels like nobody. At the end of the day, the question is “Does anybody care enough to walk alongside the one who feels like nobody long enough to help them feel that they are somebody again.” —KW

You can’t change the way you grew up. Mary Main, a professor at UCal-Berkeley suggests that people learn to engage in a cohesive coherent narrative of their life. What I think this suggests is that if you are an addict it is important to not just look back and identify all the acting out you have ever done. But dig in and look at the relationships with people in your life that connect to why you do what you do and who you are. It’s sort of like making sense of the chaos and learning to connect with yourself in this endeavor.

Chaos makes this hard to do. People who grew up with crazy chaos often carry a little crazy with them their entire lives. Chaos puts to sleep the awareness of living life through healthy alternatives. The way you survived is what you replicate later in life. Your habits for survival are tattooed on your bones.

Therapy teaches you to talk about your chaos. You can learn a lot intellectually about what happened—the abandonment, the disorganized attachment, and all the systemic dynamics about your dysfunctional past. But most of us who grew up in craziness will die with some of it still inside. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I will die an addict.

I, like many addicts, grew up in an environment that was so dysfunctionally complicated that it is exhausting just to talk about it, and I have been talking about it for years. Every abuse headline is connected to subheadings that guaranteed crazy living for mere survival. It’s been said that addicts learn to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. Is there any other way for an addict to survive a complicated abusive past? The web of instability is so complex that to endure required that you fall asleep to healthy behavioral options and live in a trance-like state to what is real.

For example, I grew up in a large family. The ubiquitous presence of sexual abuse impacted our family in every dimension. There was sexual abuse perpetrated by pastors and leaders at our church. There was sexual abuse that was pervasive in our family. The church I grew up in was a cult. There was patriarchal domination of men toward women in our home and church. In a cult, church life and home life environment become one. You must develop the capacity to fall asleep to the reality of what surrounds you just to survive. When I shared my sexual abuse by the pastor of our church to responsible leaders, they concluded that my parents who had attended the church for 40 years were troublemakers and shunned them for 3 months. You would have thought that victims treated in this way would sever relationships and find another church to attend. My parents didn’t. They went to sleep about the reality of what happened to their children and to themselves. Once, many years later I asked my mom about the church shunning her and my dad regarding the sexual abuse and she responded that it never happened. Of course, it never happened when you fall asleep to reality.

My parents fell asleep to the injustices that intruded their lives because they were overwhelmed with the history of abuses that took place in their own family of origin. If you don’t face and address injustice, the only way to survive is to fall asleep to the realities of abuse and domination that penetrate you and the people you love.

My parents ignored what was going on in their family by singing gospel songs like “When We All Get to Heaven” or “Victory In Jesus” in order to ignore the hell on earth that had pervaded every aspect of their lives. How is this so different than the way our society ignores the lies and deceit proffered by politicians, religious leaders, and cultural icons about what is real? Rather than sifting, sorting, and researching truth, most of us choose a media service to do our thinking and fall asleep to the incongruence of our own hypocrisy and those who lead us.

For those who choose to no longer ignore the emperor who wears no clothes, waking up takes commitment to truth and honesty. It also takes time. The effort to wake up requires that you stop doing what keeps you asleep. It’s no wonder you are sleepy if you keep taking sleeping pills.

You will need to stop your own crazy thinking like trying to do more to keep from being less. Slowing this locomotive down is no small task.

You will have to address your mistaken beliefs that exist and have created blocks to intimacy with yourself and others. Mistaken beliefs have been tattooed in your heart as a way of surviving the craziness of your childhood. When you do more and have more it is difficult to accept less and think you are more. Material gain is like booze. There’s nothing wrong with either one as long as you respect that both can make you drunk. Driving your life drunk is scary whether you are intoxicated with booze or the disease of more.

The only way to stop the chaos is to wake up from the big sleep. Nothing changes until it is real. When craziness is complex, waking up means to slow life to examine the inconsistencies, face your hypocrisy, and address your incongruence.

People talk about making America great again. Yet, if everybody, who knew somebody who felt like a nobody, was willing to walk alongside to wake them up from the chaos and craziness, maybe that would hold promise to a great future for the first time. Together, we can be somebody once again.

The Secret Life of Long-Term Sobriety, Part 1

READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

For many in recovery sobriety is a mystery.  A 12-step group usually starts with a prayer and often ends with clasped hands in a circle repeating in unison “It works if you work it and you’re worth it”. Over the years I have heard many addicts testify that in those same meetings, after all the good-declared intention, they acted out before they got home and sometimes even before they left the parking lot.

There is a great divide in reality at 12-step meetings. There are the haves and have-nots. Those who have sobriety and those who don’t. For many, sobriety is elusive. At times, after working hard to achieve sobriety, it can slip through the fingers in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. How are some able to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety while others cannot?

Over the next two blogs, I want to propose 11 keys that are vital to creating long-term sobriety:

1. A decision to stop no matter what it takes. This, like the ten other keys, seems like a no-brainer. Yet, through observance of the meetings I attend and the addicts I counsel, this key is often missing. I ask many addicts who come to do work at PCS if they are done with their addiction. I often get the reply “I’m here, aren’t I?” It’s almost as if somehow showing up to the PCS building would be magical and that the building and all the therapists will transform him or her from a raging addict to zen-like sobriety. Addicts can make a great therapist look inept or an average therapist into a rockstar. It all depends upon the attitude that he or she chooses. I recall my wife Eileen and I saying to each other that “we would hock our socks” to get healthy. That was about the reality that we had no funds for treatment. The decision was to do whatever it takes. Many addicts come to a 12-step meeting without a “white hot” intensity to transform their lives. They look for someone to give them something or to take care of them. It is common for some addicts to show up with an attitude of entitlement. Long-term sobriety requires something very simple: You must want to stop more than anything else in the world.

2. Be humble. You would think that an addict’s life of frustration and failure would result in humility. Yet, often this is not the case. Addicts present most frequently with arrogance. Some are full of conceit and presumption while others seem demure on the surface, but underneath are full of disdain and hubris. The truth is that practicing humility is a lifelong challenge. It requires charting a recovery course that includes holding your attitude and spirit accountable to group members. It demands that you put people in your life who role model humility. It is common for addicts in recovery to assume they won’t need to practice humility and lose their hunger for it. Often, addicts fall into a trap that they have done this work for so long that they do not need to embrace this fundamental component of recovery. This is where you fall into lapse or relapse behavior. You might not act out but for sure you will stop growing deep without humility.

3. Be coachable. I will never forget my earliest days in 12-step recovery. I would question the purpose of each step and present as cynical of the overall process. My sponsor, Chip, who was for the most part mild-mannered, cleared his throat and said “Ken, I think it would be in your best interest to shut up and just do what you were told to do”. This admonition hurt my feelings and was used to save my own life. It is rare to find an addict who is hungry to take guidance. Most of us think we can do this by ourselves. You can be inspired by others who testify about reaching out, but most of us don’t do this very well. This is true even though your best thoughts and actions got you into the addict-behavior mess you are in. With stubborn inflexibility, many addicts refuse to listen or take action from what they hear in a 12-step meeting. The doctor can write the prescription, but you have to take the medicine.

4. Live your recovery in consultation with accountability. There is an oft-repeated saying around 12-step groups, “If 8 or 9 people tell you that you have a tail . . .check your ass in the mirror!” Though humorous, there is important recovery wisdom here. Addicts don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They bristle with direct feedback. Yet there is no other way to establish long-term sobriety. It requires a shift in spirit and attitude. The reason a sponsor tells a sponsee to call them every day is to create the habit of living in consultation. Most addicts won’t do this. It contributes to shortsighted relapse. There is a difference between consultation and dependence. Recovery becomes a paradox. You are taught to consult, and in the end, every action you take in your life is about your choice and decision. Be accountable. Live in consultation with others. It cements long-term sobriety.

5. Don’t just do the steps. Learn to live them in commonplace experience. Addicts get overwhelmed trying to do the steps. Perfectionism is a contributing reason why some addicts stop before completing all the steps. Step 4 is particularly difficult. More addicts get stuck in Step 4 than any other step. Addicts think they have to do this monumental undertaking. It’s as if you must walk through burning coals and stay there until your sponsor permits you to step out. Step 4 is difficult. We don’t have to make it harder than it is. A thorough Step 4 is never complete. So, address a character flaw, even a few. Sit with it. Learn what you can in the moment of focus and then move on. It is important in recovery to understand we don’t do the 12 steps but we learn to embrace and apply them in the common places of everyday living. 

I Can’t Believe What I Just Did!—Relapse

“Slowly I began to recognize that many of the boxes I found myself in were boxes of my own making.”— Melodie Beattie

Relapse isn’t a reality for every addict. Yet, for most, it has happened. Once sober you tell yourself ‘never again’ and you mean it. You’ve tasted the sweetness of sobriety and you shake your head wondering how did you ever think acting out was a better life? Yet, it happened! At first, it seemed like it was out of the blue. You had been doing so good. Then it felt like someone pulled the rug out from under you. Cravings hit you like a big Mac truck. It didn’t come out of the blue but it just as well had. You were not prepared nor paying attention to the details of your recovery life and there you were—acting out again!

The taste of acting out is bitter. There are times it makes your mouth dry as cotton. There is a sick feeling in your stomach. Sometimes you wonder how it could possibly have happened. Yet it did. There are cascading self-accusations that rattle in your brain like a machine gun. You feel overwhelmingly down and discouraged. The hangover from acting out leaves you feeling dull with brain fog. You walk through life activities hollow inside feeling dreamlike about the experience. You know you have to tell on yourself but you want to lie and keep it all a secret. How do I ever rebound from such an awful place?

Here are steps back to center that you must consider:

1. Admit the obvious. Addicts learn from their family of origin to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. They are great at pretending. When you relapse you must tell on yourself and be accountable to your support group including your partner. This is where you wobble. You can tell people in your 12-step group but my partner?! Are you kidding me? Secrets and dishonesty are breeding grounds for addiction behavior to flourish. Best to tell support people in 12-step recovery before you disclose to your partner so that you don’t minimize what you did in relapse. To do otherwise risks creating a disclosure disaster. Hold your feet to the fire and tell on yourself.

2. Do the next right thing. This is obvious but bears underscoring. The next right thing is to get yourself out of harm’s way. Address vulnerability to continue acting out by reaching out in a 12-step meeting and/or recovery friend. Lay it out in living color exactly what happen. Don’t piecemeal your truth. Let the love and acceptance of the group or support person become a shroud you wear. You have hurt yourself and are wounded. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to face consequences. It is important that you surround yourself with love, support, and genuine care in the presence of white hot truth-telling.

3. Do an autopsy on your relapse behavior. Once you’re out of harm’s way and surrounded by support, figure out how relapse happened. If you don’t, be prepared to do it again. Examine program neglect: (1) stopped going to meetings: (2) isolated—not telling on yourself to group/sponsor or support; (3) stopped doing the steps because of busyness; (4) procrastinated facing a truth that you don’t want to face; (5) wallowed in shame, resentment, loneliness, anger, hate; (6) marinated in mistaken beliefs that block intimacy and sabotage recovery. Do the work of unpacking how you put yourself in the box that led to your relapse. If you can figure out how you got into the relapse box, you can figure out how to get out.

4. Fortify your commitment to recovery: Once clear about why you acted out, fortify taking the next healing steps. Create filters that will keep you from porn and acting out. Don’t just put a cork in the bottle, get rid of all alcohol in the house. These are examples of next right steps. How many times have I heard addicts confess to relapse with no plan for next right steps. When you fortify your commitment to recovery, next right steps become obvious.

5. Act on positive self-affirmation regardless of how you feel. When you relapse and feel like all hell has broke loose, it’s hard to take yourself by the nape of the neck and pull yourself from the mud hole you created. You can only do this with determination to act on treating yourself as you hope to be. It is painful but you must forgive yourself and let go of the negative feelings that accompany relapse behavior. These steps are always painful. As you act in the way your destiny beckons, the painful shameful messages will fall away in time. You will become congruent merging your behavior to positive beliefs about self.

6. Don’t let the little boy/little girl run your inner life. You cannot expect a small child to figure out addiction. Shame dominates in relapse behavior because we empower the little boy/girl to make adult decisions about recovery. Put in charge, the inner child will conclude that you are a piece of shit who is destined to never get it right so why try. This is because a little child is unable to navigate the narrows of addiction recovery. However, when you take the reins of responsibility and place them in the hands of the powerful adult in you, the results are dramatically different. As an adult, you can face consequences of destructive choices, choose to care for self, and hold your feet to the fire of bringing yourself back to center. It will require the adult-you to fend off the negative shameful messages and to embrace and act on positive affirmations that will fulfill the destiny of sobriety.

Relapse is always found in the box of your own making. Hopefully, these steps will help you step out of the box and take steps toward solid sobriety and deepened serenity.

A 5 Tool Relapse Recovery Plan: Tool #4

Coroners do autopsies when they think it is important to determine the cause of death. Autopsies can be very sophisticated and detailed. They determine the cause of death, the time the individual died, and a host of other specifics that are important. Sometimes performing an autopsy gives resolution and sanity to love ones while they grapple with the unknown. Answers to questions like “What and why did this happen” are often clarified from the results of a thorough autopsy. Science uses autopsy results to assist in the cure of disease. Healthcare workers utilize autopsy results to create protocols to keep others safe from toxic and high-risk infectious diseases. 

Millions of people suffer from the disease of addiction. Admitting that your life is powerless and unmanageable because of your drug of choice is a tough step to take. However, admitting relapse failure after getting into treatment is also difficult. Most addicts who relapse either don’t tell anyone or admit it to support people and try to distance themselves from the painful relapse as quickly as possible.

A lapse autopsy around addictive relapse is crucial to long-term sobriety. Admitting the relapse and moving forward with determination to abstain without insight into the build-up behaviors that triggered relapse is a guarantee to repeating destructive behavior. A lapse autopsy is a powerful tool to identify what happened that created relapse and what needs to change to avoid chronic failure. Consider the following steps toward completing a lapse autopsy. 

  1. Write out or tell someone what happened in complete detail. It is important to turn over every stone of your relapse behavior to help you see clearly what happened. When you minimize and gloss over thoughts and behaviors leading to and engaging in relapse behavior, you will miss what is needed to establish a strong intervention.
  1. Identify environmental influences. The environment you live in makes a big difference toward relapse prevention. Think about the relationship conflicts, stress factors, and physical experiences that contributed to your vulnerability to relapse. Unresolved tension in a partner relationship can trigger mistaken beliefs that lead to relapse. Stress build-up from relational, financial, sexual, physical, and parental struggles all influence the possibility of relapse. Take stock of the environment that encompassed you leading up to and including the time you relapsed. Assess the experience of deprivation that fuels entitlement. What were you deprived of? Were there successes that you experienced that were uncomfortable and triggered undeserving thoughts of self-sabotage? You will need to go slow and carefully examine the environment to learn of its influence toward your relapse.
  1. Examine your thoughts leading up to the time you relapsed. What you think about expands. It is critical to examine the mistaken beliefs that marinated in your mind before acting out. If you tell yourself that you are not enough or that you are a failure etc, then in time you will create the data to support that belief, which will convince you to produce more of the same behavior to support your inner thoughts. This is why it is crucial to be aware of negative cognitions so that you can change your thoughts which will help you change your life. 
  1. Be aware of the progression of thoughts and behaviors that lead you to acting out. When you anticipate someone rejecting you it triggers a victim-posture attitude. A mask is needed to hide your shameful thoughts and you seek to emotionally isolate to avoid the uncomfortable build-up. Fantasy helps you vacate discomfort which eventually triggers inappropriate addictive fantasy. Optimistically you begin to select a strategy to pursue your addiction while grooming yourself and others in ways that enable you to pursue your secret desires. After you relapse you tell yourself that you need to stop and misplace the responsibility for acting out on some person or force outside of your control. You then reconstitute with behaviors that would indicate to others and yourself that you are not the kind of person who would addictively act out. These steps toward relapse can happen as quickly as the snap of a finger. It is necessary to utilize the lapse autopsy to slow your thinking and to be aware of the negative progression of behaviors that gave birth to relapse. 

Map out what you will commit to doing differently to avoid relapse. This includes consideration at every level of activity. Some people think that it is necessary to go back and do all the steps again or to attend 90 meetings in 90 days because of their relapse. Maybe so. However, a lapse autopsy will help you clarify where you got off track so that you can specifically target interventions that will help you return to the space of relapse prevention. 

After you complete your lapse autopsy it is helpful to sit down and review each misstep with your sponsor or support friend and clarify what you will commit to do differently with each misstep. 

The lapse autopsy is necessary to create clarity in the presence of chaotic relapse behavior. It helps to create grounding and bring you back to center to continue your recovery journey. 

Essentially, a lapse autopsy is what every sports team does when they study film from a previous game. This is the way they learn and improve. It is true for businesses that take time for quarterly and yearly reviews. The lapse autopsy has proven to be an excellent tool for long-term sobriety.