Compassion

Ten Components That Cultivate Cherish in the Presence of Relational Betrayal

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Cherish is a dynamic in relationship life that adds richness and protects the integrity of love between two people. Cherish promotes protecting and caring for something or someone in a very loving way. You hear about athletes who cherish an old coach who has long since retired. The athlete now cherishes the memories and lessons learned. Memories of old mentors who have passed away are cherished by all of us. Cherish means that we hold something or someone dear to our hearts. Historians cherish the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and other valued historic documents. Olympic athletes cherish the opportunity to participate with great hope for success. The word cherish represents magic that adds meaningfulness to romantic relationships. It is an important characteristic and life dynamic.

Cherish can be drained from the experience of life. Disappointment can stop the flow of cherish in a promising job when you are overlooked. Selfish living can kill the cherish that exists in a community. Abandonment and neglect can choke the cherish from the dynamic of any relationship. Yet, nothing destroys cherish in a relationship like betrayal. 

Gone is the protection and the care for the integrity of love in a relationship. Past memories of cherish are now sullied with deceit and lies. Meaningfulness in a betrayed relationship is demolished with chaos and confusion from gaslighting. Hope is destroyed with dupe and double cross.

Relational betrayal is a societal travesty. The basics of how men learn to treat women begin with role-modeling in the home between mother and father. When dad treats mom as if she were a utility (responsible for all the domestic duties and for providing good sex) then it carries forward in the lives of the boys into adulthood. The seed for sexual objectification are planted in the minds of children by the way dad objectifies mom and how mom colludes with being a utility. 

Objectification eradicates cherish. When one partner betrays another, objectification is the culprit that permeates the thoughts and behavior of the betrayer. The grass seems greener somewhere else. 

When betrayal is exposed through disclosure, the betrayer most often will want to fix the problem with an apology and move on. Yet, broken hearts don’t heal this way. It becomes a feeble attempt to restore cherish in the relationship.

At the moment of disclosure, both partners are unable to move forward toward rebuilding trust with a simple apology. Trauma ignites a systems failure. Unpacking broken trust and gaslighting truth requires a detailed healing process. Honesty moving forward from disclosure about every behavior is necessary. It is important for the partner to experience this reality from the betrayer.

When both parties in a relationship ignore this understanding the efforts made by the betrayer to fix the problem will most likely be unsuccessful. A betrayed partner can heal when their experience is validated and their truth is respected and supported. Those who betray must offer this support toward healing. Betrayers who rigorously commit to honesty in all aspects of life in recovery create a healing environment toward rebuilding trust with their wounded partner. Working with an experienced therapist who has been trained in working with betrayal can be helpful. Partners who attend a self-help group for betrayed partners will steady their journey toward healing. Addicts who try to avoid their partner’s pain will slow the healing process in relational recovery.

Here are ten suggestions to consider around healing betrayal in a relationship and restoring cherish:

1. Accelerate your own commitment to your own healing. Whether you are an addict or a partner stay in your own lane. An addict must focus on doing everything possible to heal themselves, getting clear about why they cheated, with a commitment to radical interventions to prevent betrayal behavior in the future. Many betrayers get lost in finger-pointing, doing whatever their partner wants them to do, while avoiding what is necessary for their healing. So, take your eyes off your injured partner and concentrate on restoring your values.

2. Practice telling on yourself. To heal betrayed trust, each person in the relationship must understand that they will not be perfect in recovery. Mistakes will be made by both parties. It doesn’t mean that addictive relapse is automatic or inevitable but it does mean that both parties are human and backsliding on commitments made will exist along the journey toward healing. It will be important to tell on yourself and commit to making amends. Any time you hurt your partner, make amends. It all begins when you tell on yourself. Avoid being defensive or explaining your behavior and actions. You do not need to clarify your intentions. Simply acknowledge and admit that your partner is hurting. Tell on yourself when you have done something that hurts the other person. 

3. Practice not making assumptions. Making assumptions involves human error. You cannot know what you don’t know. Insecurity and shame accelerate the temptation to make assumptions. You can assume that your partner only sees you as disgusting. You can build an entire system of sabotage behaviors based on false assumptions you make about what your partner thinks of you. Intervene by stopping to check things out with an honest inquiry. Don’t bait your partner with hurtful behavior to repeat your false assumptions.

4. Don’t personalize your partner’s behavior. Your partner’s response to healing is not about you. This may be hard to wrap your arms around but true nonetheless. Their behavior is about them and their pain. You may have hurt your partner with betrayal action, but, your partner will only heal when they are guided to embrace their pain and walk down that path toward healing. If you are the one who has betrayed, you will need to establish internal boundaries that help you detach from your partner’s healing. It’s not about you. What is about you is offering support and validation to your partner for your betrayal behavior. If the partner who has been betrayed becomes verbally, physically, and/or emotionally abusive, external boundaries will need to be established. Boundaries must have consequences to provide care for the person setting them, not to punish the other party. The strategy for healing is not that you become a pin cushion for your partner’s pain.

5. Stop saying you’re sorry and validate. Sorry is a hollow word around betrayal behavior. So stop! Validation is about supporting your partner in pain with agreement and affirmation. “You are right, I was selfish, inconsiderate, and insensitive!” “I didn’t think of you and you have every right to be angry and hurt!” “I know you are hurting. How can I best support you right now?” These are compassionate and caring examples of validation that will require you to anchor yourself in the powerful adult that you are and can operate from in your relationship.

6. Stop looking for a pat on the back from your partner as you work hard to maintain sobriety. If you are an addict, providing sobriety is a ground-zero expectation. Your partner did not commit to you thinking fidelity would be an added benefit. It’s assumed that you would preserve faithfulness. When you break your partner’s heart you cannot expect them to be your cheerleader. Your 12-step community and others must provide support at this level. 

7. Know your partner’s love language and zero in on that behavior. Focus on being sensitive to what your betrayed partner needs from you. Making promises and giving your partner what you would want for comfort usually is not healing. However, when you focus on what is considerate and caring from their perspective, it can create emotional pain relief and soothing support.

8. Ask for permission to express love to your partner in non-sexual ways. Taking the initiative to do nice things for your partner without first asking is often seen as inconsiderate when healing betrayal and building cherish. Doing what you think your partner needs without checking in with him or her is another way of taking up too much space. Asking for permission and framing it as “Would this be helpful to you” is a way of practicing dignity and respect that ultimately leads to healing.

9. Pay attention to codependent responses while navigating through relational betrayal. Understandably, you want to please your hurting partner while both of you attempt to heal from betrayal behavior. However, when the primary motivation to do recovery is to satisfy your partner, it seldom works for the long haul. It is not sustainable. Sometimes the partner who was betrayed by an addict’s behavior wants to determine the particulars of an addict’s behavioral contract for sober living. This seldom works well. Oftentimes an addict will codependently abandon his or her truth in order to appease their betrayed partner. When this happens an addict often loses his or her way in recovery which ultimately leads to a relapse. Both addict and partner must cultivate healthy self-assertion regarding wants, needs, and expectations in the relationship. When this is not done a shallow recovery life is pockmarked with unhealthy codependent response. 

10. Subconsciously, don’t make your partner your parent while recovering from destructive betrayal behavior. When betrayal is uncovered in a relationship, it is easy for the betrayed partner to put the betrayer in the basement of the relationship. Shame accelerates negative images and messages about the betrayer. This frequently triggers old pattern behaviors that resemble trying to gain approval from a parent early in life. A partner cannot be the other’s parent. Pleasing your partner from this framework of thought and behavior will never restore healthy intimacy. Recovery may trigger awareness that unresolved family-of-origin issues need to be addressed. When this is true, address it so that you can anchor healing that fosters equal loving care for yourself and your hurting partner.

Rebuilding cherish in the appalling presence of infidelity and betrayal is a difficult undertaking. These ten suggestions are among many that can help make a healing difference as you navigate the treacherous waters of mending betrayal behavior.

Hangovers

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Fred has been a recovering sex addict for 5 years. Sexual acting out used to be an organizing principle in his life. He woke up everyday thinking of numbing out with porn and hooking up with whoever he could find on the internet. It nearly cost him his family, his job, and even his life. One day an escort and her pimp robbed him of everything he had. At gunpoint, they forced him to go to his bank and withdraw $10,000 from his account. He was told that there was a gun pointed at his head throughout the entire bank transaction and would be killed if he did not bring them the exact amount. This was hitting bottom for Fred. He promised that if he escaped this predicament, he would seek help and change his lifestyle. And he did. He sought out a certified sex addiction therapist. He began going to 12-step meetings, worked the steps, changed his life, and experienced healing within and in his marriage and family. That was 5 years ago! 

Moving forward he managed sexual addiction cravings with the tools that he had learned in therapy and 12-step groups. Things were headed in the right direction. Then COVID hit. He was laid off from his work and had to scramble, doing anything to pay the bills. There was a lot of stress and anxiety that persisted throughout the 2 years since the COVID lockdown. Eventually fatigue, stress, and anxiety wore him down. One night while driving home he pulled into the parking lot of a strip club, drank, and paid for several lap dances. The next morning he woke up with a hangover not only from the alcohol but from the reality that he surrendered all the vestiges of meaningful sobriety and serenity that he had accumulated in his recovery program the 5 years before. He was sick to his stomach, dulled with brain fog, and profound loneliness and emptiness. The emotional pain was indescribable. Alone, he screamed in despair. He was suffering from the hangover of relapse behavior. 
Hangovers suck! Hangovers always deliver what they promise—headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, irritability, and other symptoms. Most people associate hangovers with drinking too much or other drug abuse. But, hangovers are the result of many behaviors. Other than its relationship to chemical abuse, the dictionary defines a hangover as something that remains from what is past. Its the letdown that follows great effort and excitement. Hangovers follow every act out and trigger further use of a substance or process.

Every addict knows the pain of a hangover that follows an addictive behavior. Addicts who succumb to relapse are highly susceptible to repeating the destructive behavior until the old addictive lifestyle is once again in place. It happens amazingly fast! Hangovers play a significant role in the reconstitution of addiction. Surprised by the relapse, addicts fall victim to the power of shame and the staggering emotional pain that is part of the hangover aftermath. 

Most addicts relapse in their attempts to gain control of their addiction. Listed below are suggestions to consider in working through the hangover that accompanies relapse behavior.

1. Get out of harm’s way. You may have to drag yourself away but don’t let the bus of addiction run over you repeatedly with added relapse behavior. Call someone in recovery. The risk of further addictive behavior increases exponentially on the heels of a hangover. Loneliness, shame, depression, failure, etc are intense feelings that overwhelm and tempt you to medicate with addictive behavior. You must take the power away from the junkie worm with a radical behavioral pattern interruption. Examples include going to a 12-step meeting, calling a recovery friend (even in the middle of the night), throwing your keys down a storm sewer to keep you from driving under the influence, or whatever you need to do to remove yourself from harm’s way.

2. Surround yourself with support. When you relapse, shame wants to force you into isolation. Rather than isolate, you must insulate yourself with people who you know love you, understand, and will support you no matter what. Addicts in recovery who engage in a 12-step meeting with openness and vulnerability create connections that are helpful during a time of crisis in their recovery. It is critical to reach out to other addicts in recovery when you face relapse. You will falter. Create a community that will be there and help you restore yourself to sanity and centered living.

3. Practice sitting with the pain that accompanies relapse failure. No matter what you do after a relapse, you cannot escape the pain of the hangover. You can mitigate its effects with self-care and reconnecting with your program. That said, relapse always produces intense emotional pain and disappointment. Rather than try to escape, which might increase the possibility of relapse, practice accepting and leaning into the emotional pain. Leaning into the pain of relapse differs from choosing to wallow in the failure of relapse which quickly becomes a way to escape and avoid doing the next right thing in self-care. It hampers a mature response to failure. Leaning into the pain is accepting what happened and moving forward with the next right recovery steps toward re-centering yourself in a healthy life balance. The good news is that the hangover does wear off in time.

4. Divorce yourself from the behavior. You are not your behavior. You will have to condition yourself during this moment of discouragement and shame. Put the shame on the behavior and not your sense of self. Separating the behavior from your personhood will help you nurture compassion for yourself and those you hurt with your destructive behavior. There is no greater prevention for further relapse than compassion and empathy.

5. Learn from every relapse failure. While you are not a failure, you can learn something about yourself that can cement future sobriety in every failed experience. The lessons you glean from your failed experience are the gold you create to fulfill your recovery destiny. Allow yourself to be a mistake-making person. Take away the treasure of wisdom from each mistake before you throw away the rind of failed behavior.

The loneliness and emptiness that is core to the experience of relapse hangover paralyze many addicts who have relapsed. The way through the hangover is to fix your eyes on re-centering your vision of recovery. Move through relapse behavior by anchoring your heart with actions of recovery practice. The hangover will wear off provided you do the necessary self-care. 

Perfect is Never Part of the Plan

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“She’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be. But if she can make you laugh at least once, cause you to think twice, and admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She isn’t going to quote poetry or think about you every moment, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you could break. Don’t hurt her, don’t change her, and don’t expect more than she can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when she makes you happy, yell when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect people don’t exist, but there’s always one person that is perfect for you.” ― Bob Marley

When addicts come to recovery, there is always a desire to do it perfectly. On the one hand,  their ego tells them they can. “Twelve steps, twelve days, knock it down, what’s next!” I’ve heard it more than once.  On the other hand, “failure, missing the mark is so painful I don’t want to get up and try one more time” is a common lament from many.  More than one addict can testify that they have a drawer full of chips reminding them of commitments made and broken. Why try if I can never reach the mark, never measure up?  Recovery becomes like the life they have always lived. Somehow I should be able to do this perfectly and I cannot because I am woefully imperfect. 

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the average experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of major league baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these common-place experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and understand how to put imperfection in its proper perspective. No matter who you are, transforming meaningfulness from mundane moments of struggle and failure requires accepting imperfection. It is necessary to embrace the benefits of average commonplace struggles.

When you don’t measure up to what you expect, you then scale down your expectations of achievement which can be helpful or disastrous. Moving acting out behavior from your inner circle to your middle circle and denying that it is any longer acting out but just high-risk behavior is disastrous for sobriety. You just practice old destructive behaviors you did before recovery with a different label. In your attempt to be perfect, you end up accelerating more shame. No one ever beats themselves up to a better place.

However, when you fail to measure up to what you intended, it is important to adjust the way you treat yourself. Rather than criticize and judge your failed behavior, it is transformative to recognize the mistake and then focus on the next right behavior which always anchors being centered. Centered living involves grounding yourself in your values. When you blow it, either by relapsing into addictive behavior or falling short of treating yourself and others with respect and dignity, you will need to practice ignoring the inner critical voice, bring yourself back to the center, and anchor yourself to your values. You will feel hypocritical, discouraged, and dejected because of your failed behavior. You will need to embrace your imperfect behavior by positively affirming who you are. This takes practice and everyday conditioning. You will need to create healing affirmations that you engage in as frequently as you brush your teeth before they consistently transform your imperfect behavior into empowerment.  Slowly your new relationship with imperfection will emerge. Being able to bring yourself back to center is more important than never having left center in the first place. 

Imperfection contains the secret message the universe would like you to have to live life in harmony. Striving to be perfect deafens your inner ear to the message of the universe. When you persist toward perfection, you will hide inevitable shortcomings and run from the message they have for you. Managing imperfection requires that you listen to the pain of failure and shortcomings. For example, as an addict when you crave a fix from your drug of choice, after you take yourself out of harm’s way, listen to the legitimate need that must be met with healthy self-parenting. Your imperfect craving will contain a message from the universe to take care of yourself in this extremely needy moment. Perfection will try to deny the craving and thus miss the message from the universe. By embracing your imperfection you will transform the curse of craving into a blessing of personal care and intimacy. Imperfection teaches you to listen to your feelings and become present in the present moment. 

Managing imperfection means that you will need to recognize when you have handed the reins of control over to the small child within. As a child, you become emotionally stuck around the needs that did not get met and are fueled by neglect and abandonment. When that perception is triggered as an adult, the inner child seizes the moment and flees or freezes with fear. At that moment, you give power to the little boy or little girl to address an adult decision and you render your powerful wise-mind adult inoperative. The results of this interaction are dismal. Perfection denies or becomes overwhelmed with the failure. Managing imperfect moments means that you take the reins respectfully from the child and assert your adult-wise mind to address the need or situation. This, too, will require training and practice. Again, perfect is never part of the plan.

Managing imperfection requires that you cultivate the concept of Velvet Steel. This recovery skill is an art form. Most addicts are hard or harsh (steel) where they need to be gentle, and soft (velvet) where they need to be steel. The misapplication fuels addictive behavior. In striving for perfection you will miss cultivating velvet steel. Likely, you will become stoic and stern in your endeavor to live a sober life.  

Managing imperfection requires learning when to apply the strict letter of the law about your behavior and when to be gentle. Parents must learn this as they guide children through the stages of life. Rigidity around failure and imperfection is a breeding ground for shame. 

You will develop the art of living when you learn to make imperfection your teacher.  Allow your difficulties to become your learning and source for growth. Set recovery goals that challenge rather than defeat you before you begin. Be realistic. Accept imperfection and stretch yourself from there. Your imperfect feelings will help you grow in self-care and understanding toward others. 

Your choice in recovery is not whether to use affirmations. We’ve been affirming thoughts and beliefs since we were old enough to speak. The choice in recovery is what we want to affirm. Whatever thoughts you give energy to, empower you. Are you willing to release, or let go of, negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones? Will you choose to affirm imperfection and make it good? Remember, perfect is never part of the plan. 

Talkin’ Trash

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“Here I am – Do You See Me.”

 —KW

Blown by the wind without notice

Others just like me become my blanket

Gathered in a desolate corner

Invisible until we become so many

Scorned with disgust from others

Would someone please rid me of this filth?

There’s a trash can—put me there

Make me out of sight

Make me invisible like the night

But you can’t, cause I’m here just like you

I’m the reality of  your imagination

I’m dog shit

People shit

The wrappers of dreams to make me disappear

Straws for smack and blow to get you to forget

But here I am—

You can’t forget me, you must do something about me

I’m the writer who paints your park benches

Your trains, your overpass bridges

Got stuff you don’t get in carts on permanent loan

Sleep in places that scare the hell out of you and me too

Others just like me—in the heat and cold, moan and groan

Wash away the crust 

I’m just like you

Broken family, broken dreams

Close your eyes and listen 

It’s all the same—so it seems

Just talkin’ trash

Just talkin’ trash

No one wants to be invisible or forgotten. Being unwanted and uncared for is worse than being hungry with nothing to eat. When people are objectified their essential self is invisibilized.  People objectify others as sexual body parts to be pursued and conquered or as sources to achieve power, fame, or fortune.  People who are takers and not givers reduce relationships to what’s in it for me.  Solutions to social dilemmas require a giver mentality. Objectification is about taking. It’s about wanting what you want when you want it.  It’s about going through the world seeing only what you want to experience and ignoring the suffering that challenges others.

From Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, it can be emphasized that when you engage others and the world around you as an “it” you organize and manipulate the world only as you want to see it.  Human suffering, social dilemmas, and environmental challenges become obstacles to ignore while material and relational pleasures become objectified. An “it” mentality is a pathway to becoming alienated from the world around you as it is. Buber wrote, “To look away from the world or to stare at it, does not help a man to reach God; but he who sees the world in Him stands in His presence.” There is a sense of spiritual connection that occurs when what you see and experience in the world around you connects with what is in you. It becomes a source for “thou” relationships which holds great respect for others problems and challenges in life.

Everyone needs a safe and trusting community to be seen. Here, vulnerability and trust are serendipitously expressed through our grief, joy, and challenge. I don’t know anyone who exemplifies this truth more than Sally, a client I once had. 

Sally had every reason to isolate and avoid the community when she first came to see me in my office. Emotionally, she was fragmented. She suffered horrendous physical, ritual, and sexual abuse from her parents who were involved in a cult. Her parents solicited her to other members of the family and cult. She experienced everything that would make a family unsafe. She fled from this frightful gruesome family to a life on the streets. 

While learning plenty of street savvy, she also learned to stuff her sorrows and the sadism she’d experienced throughout her childhood with a cocktail of addictions. When she initially sought professional counsel, she experienced more abuse and betrayal from those who were supposed to be healing and safe. She learned to deaden herself to the world at large and to disconnect from the community. Eventually, she decided to attend our intensive outpatient program, which involves sixty-five hours of therapy in 8 days. 

When she began her plunge experience, there was no trust, only desperation. However, as the days unfolded, her barriers began to come down. Maybe it was the intensity of one session after another beginning at 7:00 a.m. and continuing until 8:30 p.m. It could have been the many different approaches that her relentless counselors used. Whatever it was, she reached a watershed point where she decided to open her heart to the possibility of healing. As she progressed throughout the week, she decided that this would be her last attempt to find hope. She decided that she would do whatever it took to get healthy.

As she became committed to healing herself, she committed to integrating her fragmented inner self. She embraced the emotional pain that dominated her life, rather than medicate it with addiction. She resolved to attend 12-Step meetings to address her compulsive behaviors. Though dominated with fear and full of anxiety, slowly she shifted and allowed her 12-Step community to become a touchstone and signpost for reality in her recovery. Sharing her brokenness in the community provided relational safety for Sally. 

When there is relational safety in the community, anything and everything can be explored and sifted and sorted through. Pain becomes the fellowship’s touchstone and signpost indicating an imbalance in life. The community provides a sound studio to listen to pain’s message. Common shared brokenness is its draw, not common likeness or interest. Becoming emotionally naked by sharing our deepest feelings and secrets is commonplace and expected. It’s a space where we can fit in and be accepted as we are. It is a sanctuary in which to learn how we can wear our own skin well. It’s a space to accept our own acceptance while staring at imperfection. It is a place to grow ourselves into adult maturity and discover inner brilliance. 

Today, after many years of recovery and therapy, Sally has carved out a commitment to a 12-step community based on a shared brokenness that has proven supportive and sustaining. Today, though she continues to work out her emotional brokenness, she has become an inspiration to those who work with her professionally. She has become a leader in her field of expertise. Her husband and children continue to benefit from her resilience and commitment to her healing journey. 

Recently, she told me her recovery life has rendered her 1,000 percent improved. She echoed that without a community to share her deepest feelings of brokenness, in concert with therapeutic intervention, her road to recovery would have led to a dead end. 

There are thousands of Sally’s in the world around you including the homeless. My wife Eileen and I have chosen to live in a neighborhood where homeless people live all around us. Each morning we walk our dog through our neighborhood streets. We pick up trash and dog poop with our sanitary gloves as we make our way. Along the canal that we walk there is graffiti painted on park benches and backyard walls. There is trash all around including dog and human feces. At first, it was disgusting. Over time, I have learned that the trash has a voice that represents the many unfortunate ones. The trash is their voice to tell me and you that  “I am here. Don’t forget me. Please see me!” 

Do you know someone you would describe as forgotten? When you drive to work, worship, or play, do you notice the street people in your community? Not knowing what to do with misfortune, many look away from the homeless, choosing to deal with discomfort by distancing themselves from it. What about the person at the grocery store who shuffles by with a blank stare on his face? Do you think of him as invisible? 

Today every piece of trash I pick up, I hear the voices of so many on the streets and elsewhere saying please treat me as a “Thou.” Just talkin’ trash!

Step 2: The Step That Creates Humility in the Presence of Willful Self Destruction

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“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” 

“It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.” Soren Kierkegaard

In 12-step addiction recovery, the phrase “self will run riot” is cataloged and documented in our first step focuses on the out-of-control and unmanaged behavior that dominates our lives. Step 2 is an invitation to step back, take a deep breath, and examine the carnage that you created through the eyes of your spirit. 

In recovery, spirituality is a very difficult concept to embrace. It asks of you to consider opposites. So, in order to win it encourages you to lose; to be in control, it asks that you let go, to know is to humbly embrace what you don’t know. At times, it seems like trying to nail jelly to a tree. You talk about your spiritual experience in a support community. At the time, it seems so meaningful and then later it seems so difficult to make sense from what was then helpful. The worthwhile dialogue gets fuzzy in your head. Wisdom and learning can be this way.

Examining what I need to relinquish in order to gain sobriety and serenity requires introspection and deep honesty with self. Letting go of what I cannot control demands courage and integrity to the values that go deeper than the grip of what I am afraid to lose. Embracing what you do not know requires that you be willing to sit with uncertainty and the insecurity that comes from things around you being impermanent. There are no cookbook recipes or formulas that are universal for you or anyone else to do in life. You have to figure it out yourself. Kurtz and Ketcham in their book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, compared spirituality to the mortar that holds a fireplace together. The metaphor invokes that you consider what it is that you are truly counting on to hold your life together. Upon reflection, as a Christian, I knew the appropriate response would be Jesus. Yet, spirituality required me to go deeper with honesty. Careful examination revealed that what I really depended upon when cornered by life’s demands, is that I would work my ass off. Then I would dress it up with religious words. Nothing wrong with working hard. Nonetheless, spirituality beckoned me, to be honest with self. This is the heart of spirituality. 

Spirituality can be unnerving. Some identify their spirituality with a relationship with God. Others think it to be Jesus. Some even re-work the steps and put Jesus’ name in many of the steps. Others think spirituality centers around Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, the Great Spirit, Pachamama, Mother Nature, higher power, higher self, unknown creative force, life force energy of the universe, and even the tree in the backyard. Annie Parisse said, “One man’s cult is another man’s religion.” Spirituality wraps around and through all of these concepts. Even, the word itself is limited. It is just a vocabulary word which does rankle some. Atheists do not believe in God and many are bothered by the very word spirituality. Surely, with the thousands of words in our vocabulary, there can be another word to embrace this dynamic. Spirituality does require vulnerability—looking at yourself from the inside/out. It implores you to become emotionally naked to yourself and amazingly expands when you share this with others. Why others? Others mirror back to you your own bullshit. Seeing your own bullshit in others becomes an invite to a deeper, more clear spirituality within.

Spirituality is found in the wound of human failure. Entangled with the wound is the powerful shackle of shame that wraps itself around the spirit like an infectious worm. Defeat and desolation from addictive acts become compost for cultivating humility, a cardinal component of spirituality. It is by fertilizing Step 2 and nourishing your spirit that later in Step 9 we make amends from the compassion for others spawned from Step 2. Spirituality is the ingredient that forms an antibiotic for conceit and arrogance. It combats self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and the pride that denies need which is the root of all our struggles. In a strange turn of events, the Step 2 process takes the broken condition of addiction and connects it to every other human tribulation. We are all one. Through this epiphany, we look to a greater spiritual dynamic to address the limiting “crack” so common to us all. I have often queried addicts about which part of their destructive behavior is the most difficult to face—the consequences, the realness of a loved one’s painful screams, etc. Once identified, I suggest this to be the place to set up shop and cultivate spirituality—in the wound. It is in the scrubbing of shame (the wound) in this most painful place that spirituality is fostered and nourished.

Spirituality is about oneness and unity. It is about a relationship between equals. It is about recognizing the shared life force within all living things. We are one: Catholic, Jew, Pentecostal, fundamentalist, atheist, animal and plant—we are all one. Differences for sure. Yet, connected with like-kindness so often obscured. Spirituality creates compassion for yourself in the midst of destructive behavior which cultivates compassion for the weakness of others. You become one with every “sinner”.  So the victim of destructive addictive behavior is one with the perpetrator because we are all one in common shared weakness. Essentially, we all offend and this common thread of paradox creates spirituality. Spirituality becomes a necessary ingredient for accountability. If we all offend, not just the addict, then it stands to reason that holding each other accountable is necessary to create safety in community. It becomes the glue that holds the parts of recovery together.

Spirituality is a pilgrimage, not a destination. It always encompasses the terrain of personal struggle and failure. Spirituality does not travel the same line that a crow flies. It takes a very circuitous journey. It includes winding, up and down, backtracking, getting lost, criss crossed paths and starting all over. Spirituality looks like a picture of a labyrinth that a kindergartener has scribbled all over. Spirituality finds meaningfulness in the experiences of each day versus the amount of growth or “distance” gained. Joseph Campbell states “When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey”. In recovery, it is not the days counted as “success” or those experienced as “failure” but rather it is the journey that we take that is underscored as being spiritual, not the desired destination. 

Spirituality is about community. St. John of the Cross, a mystic, said that the soul who exists outside of community is like a lone coal away from the fire which soon grows cold. You are a social creature that needs connection for spirituality to thrive. Spirituality helps to adapt and to learn flexibility. You will learn to hold fast to what is in the “now” for you never know where your spirituality might take you. In your recovery life, you will notice that it is not a pilgrimage that marches straight ahead because we always have many twists and turns, ups and downs. Those who seek to do it perfectly either fail miserably or become so wound tight that eventually, they explode. Learning to accept your own recovery failure and get up and keep going is the perspective that anchors spirituality. How far you have come pales in comparison to how far you have yet to go. Spirituality gives birth to hope when you face the unknown in that you know that you are not alone in this struggle or in facing your human failure. Your struggle is exactly what someone else will need to do the next right thing and their failure is exactly what you will need to give you hope in knowing that you are not alone. This is reality spirituality.

In truth, spirituality does not lead to all the answers. It helps to embrace and engage the questions with genuine honesty. It promotes a beginner’s mind and will help you to become teachable. Step 2 fosters spirituality through the embrace of paradox in the contest of everyday common places of life.

Peace in the Presence of Turmoil

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“Peace

Is an inner awakening,

And this inner awakening

We must share

With the rest of the world.” 

― Sri Chinmoy

Finding the way of peace is a journey addicts in recovery long for. Turmoil and chaos is created by the junkie worm every day an addict lives. In desperation, addicts search for escape from the insanity that rules their life. Even in recovery, many continue to struggle in search for peace in the midst of sobriety. Stopping the runaway train going down the track is a relief but not necessarily peaceful. The question remains “How do I create calm out of chaos?” “Is it possible to have peace when there is a storm that rages all around me?” Of course, addicts are not the only ones who want to know the answer to this quandary. 

In 1975 thousands of Vietnamese fled their country by sea following the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. Crowded into small boats, they were prey to pirates, and many suffered dehydration, starvation, and death by drowning. When challenged with rough seas, many in the boats panicked causing the boat to sink and many to drown. Thich Nhat Hanh remarked in his book Being Peace that when one person remained calm and lucid, knowing what to do, he or she would help others to avoid capsizing the boat. When their voice and facial expression communicated clarity and calmness, others trusted, listened, and avoided capsizing. (Page 12)

Addicts in recovery are boat people trying to survive the currents that pull and tug them back to the sea of addictive behavior. There is panic and an onslaught of craving that crashes against the recovery program of every addict who desires to escape the domination of addiction. Recovery requires that you become a peaceful person who sits in the midst of the storm around you with perspective and poise. Where does this panorama of equanimity come from in recovery? Consider the following:

1. In the midst of addictive chaos, return to being true to yourself. The demands of recovery are intimidating. It is tempting to compare your recovery journey with someone else’s recovery journey. Some people are talented presenters. At a speakers’ meeting some tell wonderful compelling stories about recovery and you wish that your recovery life looked like theirs. But it doesn’t. It simply looks like yours. This is a time that is important to maintain perspective and return to being true to yourself. That is all you must do. Remember an oak tree is an oak tree. That is all it has to do and be. If there was a demand that it grow and look like a palm tree, it would be in trouble. When you think you and your recovery must be something you are not, you will get into trouble. Just be you. It is your only requirement. Being true to yourself is where you will discover poise and perspective.

2. Seek Understanding. It will provide compassion toward yourself and others. Addicts in recovery come from a lifestyle of self-absorption. Addicts want what they want when they want it. Their life is about taking up too much space. There is no perspective or understanding that makes sense except that which leads to achieving a desired fix with their drug of choice. It’s a very narrow view of understanding. This distorted thinking does not change overnight in recovery. An addict must seek understanding in order to cultivate compassion for others. Understanding transforms addict behavior. Understanding why you do what you do accelerates self-compassion and love for others. It is common for an addict to compartmentalize their thinking to only seeing the world from their viewpoint. Yet, when you expand your understanding with deep listening, it provides a depth of compassion for self and others. For example, I recently celebrated a birthday. However, my three sons failed to recognize my birthday. I was disappointed. Yet, when I explored the situation that each was experiencing, it provided understanding. One was traveling out of state. Distracted with covering responsibilities for a small child and engaging pomp and circumstance of a special event, he became distracted and overwhelmed with his own agenda. Another was distracted with the adjustment of a newborn and suffered from a lack of sleep and the responsibilities of being a new father. A third did call me, belated, while snow skiing. He was huffing and puffing while boot packing his way up the mountain for his first ski rendezvous of the season. His thoughts were about climbing to the top of a mountain, not my birthday. When you put yourself in other’s shoes you awaken to deeper understanding which creates room for compassion for the conditions you encounter in your world. Practice understanding. 

3. Practice cultivating community. Most addicts struggle with creating harmony and awareness in a meaningful community. Addicts tend to isolate. If they do create community it is with those in the group that they can “relate” to. Everyone in a 12-step group is an addict. We all can relate to each other. Addicts tend to be rigid and unable to adjust or become flexible with who they connect to. A 12-step community is a good place to learn how to create connections with people you would normally not relate to. This exercise is a secret to long-term sobriety. It is important that an addict take with them the ability to create community wherever they go outside a 12-step room. While easier said than done, mature recovery goes beyond a 12-step room and includes vulnerable sharing with others engaged throughout the course of life. Developing community must become a priority for addicts in recovery. 

Peace in the presence of turmoil can be achieved when addicts practice community in the highways and byways of their lives. It is anchored when addicts are true to themselves and deepened through understanding.

Yesterday’s Guilt

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“Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt” —Plautus

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night swimming in yesterday’s guilt. Things that I have done that hurt others years ago and have forgotten. Now, I remember them as if I had done them the day before. I tell myself that I have already made amends to them for the destructive behavior but guilt lingers. Sometimes it was something I did that I never told anyone about. I am the only one who knows. Recovery and activity over the years buried the behavior way down deep and now it somehow has worked its way to the surface of memory, and I ponder what to do with it at 3 am! Do you ever have bouts with yesterday’s guilt?

Guilt is not a pleasant experience. It’s the hound dog that never loses its scent and always relentlessly pursues.  There are overlays of guilt. You wake up each morning with the desire to do right. Yet, before noon you have already acted out with an addictive substance or process. Your heart descends from your chest to your stomach. There is a bitter taste of failure and guilt that seems to permeate every cell in your body. There is an overwhelming desire to be someone else, somewhere else. You feel sad, lonely, desperate, and guilty.

Guilt is a feeling experience that dominates most addicts. Even in recovery, guilt becomes a nemesis that is difficult to shake. Not only do addicts feel guilt about the destructive things they have done, but also the good things they never completed. Lying in bed replaying the things you did that were so hurtful. Like a nice warm glass of regret, depression, and self-loathing, guilt powerfully dominates the present with past memories of hurtful behavior. 

How do you manage guilt when you are committed to a life in recovery? Yesterday you stumbled. Maybe you did worse and fell off the edge of the cliff. You got drunk and killed someone driving. You had a sexual affair with your brother’s partner. You molested a child. You broke your partner’s heart with addictive behavior that created unbelievable pain for people you really love. How do you deal with the guilt that dogs you every waking moment?

1. What happened yesterday belongs to yesterday. There is an old saying in recovery that “Yesterday ended last night.” This is true. Guilt is caused by too much past, and not enough present. Wallowing in the mud and memory of past destructive behavior will never help you live free and clean in the present moment. Every day is a new day. It takes discipline to wipe the slate clean and live in the here and now and not be dominated by yesterday’s failure.

2. Guilt never rectifies past behavior. Guilt serves to remind you that you did something that hurt you or others. Sociopaths often don’t feel guilt when they hurt others. You do. Let guilt do its work and then discard it. Upon becoming aware that your behavior was hurtful to another, recognize that guilt is no longer useful to you. Feel it and let go. This will take daily discipline. Each day guilt will visit you. Practice forgiving yourself which means that you choose to not hold past behaviors against yourself and are committed to walking in the opposite direction from destructive behavior. Recognize what you are doing to rectify hurtful behavior with healing action and then dismiss guilt by taking action that demonstrates guilt-free living. Practice letting go of guilt moment by moment. 

3. Make amends. The 8th and 9th steps of the 12-Step program suggest that you make a list of the people you have harmed and make amends to them. These two steps pave the way to clarify and release guilt. Amends must be a daily practice. We hurt each other continually both intentionally and unintentionally. Amends create flexibility in relationships. It is unnecessary to defend your intentions, simply own the reality that your behavior hurt someone, and make it right with a simple apology. In this way, you eliminate the environment that breeds guilt. 

4. Learn to love your enemy. People tend to alienate unwanted feelings because they are uncomfortable. Guilt is one of those feelings. Radically, when you embrace guilt and love it for its worth, it will help you become more sensitive to ways in which you hurt others and the environment you live in. While it is not meant that you brood with guilt, it is helpful to listen to the message that guilt is sending and take positive action toward resolution. Proper management of guilt produces compassion for self and others. Guilt feels like an enemy to the soul. However, learning to love your enemy (guilt) will cultivate deeper appreciation and love for yourself and others. 

Guilt can be redemptive and can trigger love. Hating yourself and the feeling of guilt within intensifies the possibility of unwanted behavior. The power of self-love builds bridges to the destiny of future healing and positive actions.

Compassion: A Healing Salve For Objectification

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“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” 
— Nelson Mandela

Addicts struggle with objectification. They objectify people, substances, and every kind of experience. Some entrepreneurs struggle with the same. Other people become a utility. The environment is reduced to an opportunity to collect bounty; profit is the only thing that matters. Those who live this way have succumbed to the disease of objectification. When we treat each other as objects we care less about human beings and more about how to use others as a vehicle for profit and consumption. 

When people treat each other with indifference they lose sight of the brilliance that exists within the soul of every human being. They fail to see each other as an unrepeatable miracle of the universe.  Compassion is an antibiotic to objectification. It serves as a healing salve.  Albert Schweitzer said, “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others”.  Everyone is challenged to cultivate compassion in relationship with others. There is no one path toward cultivating compassion. However, putting yourself in the shoes of another’s experience can help cultivate understanding which is grist for the mill that cultivates a compassionate heart. Here is one example of cultivating a compassionate heart. 

On June 21, 1964, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were killed on a lonely intersection on a country road outside of Philadelphia, MS. They were members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and were killed for promoting voting registration among African Americans by members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner was shot in the heart at close range, Chaney (African American) was tortured, castrated then shot. There was evidence that Goodman was buried alive after being shot. The bodies were discovered 44 days later.  Alton Wayne Roberts, and other Klan members were convicted in 2005. However, the crime sparked national outrage that helped spur the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

I decided to travel to Philadelphia, Mississippi, and I researched the exact intersection the killings took place almost 60 years previous.  My wife and I arrived at the intersection at 10 pm in pitch dark.  I calculated where Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman stood facing the Klan. I tried to embrace what Mickey Schwerner thought and felt when Alton Wayne Roberts reportedly pulled Schwerner out of the car and pointed a gun at his chest before pulling the trigger at close range and killing him instantly.  He must have been afraid with much adrenaline pumping through his body. Surely he knew he was going to die? Did he have thoughts of his wife Rita? Were there regrets? And on it goes! I felt the rush of feelings and despair that each of these murdered men must have felt, which made it a hundred times more real!

I then turned my thoughts to Alton Wayne Roberts and the Klan members that accompanied him. I tried to understand the hatred that consumed their thoughts. I thought of times when I believed I had reason to hate and how it felt to remain stuck in hatred. I touched the strong rationale, the intense inward anger, and the stubborn will to insist on doing harm to those I thought deserving of the punishment. There was no stopping. I simply tried to understand what it was like for men, overwhelmed with hatred, as they acted in  committing such a horrendous act of murder. 

The next day I sat with a cup of coffee contemplating the anguish that these three men’s families must have felt for over 40 years without Roberts and others not being brought to justice. I thought of the agony of those years of turmoil and unbelievable struggle that existed in our nation. I felt it. I was alive during those times. When I left Philadelphia MS.  somehow I felt more connected to what it must be like to be African American in our country. I thought the experience cultivated understanding and compassion for both the men who were murdered and the men whose souls were murdered with hatred and criminal behavior. 

Today, it is important to walk a mile in the moccasins of another. It will give you a great understanding.  It will help you to cultivate deeper compassion for those whose struggles you previously did not understand. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a Democrat if you are Republican or vice versa. Put yourself in the mindset of a minority, being in your place of privilege. Put yourself in the quandary of being a teacher who doesn’t have the resources to do his/her job. Listen to the heart of a trans person.  Consider the passion of one who advocates for abortion rights or listen to the heart of one who is passionately anti-abortion. Maybe you don’t believe in human-caused climate change. Take time to listen and put yourself in the shoes of those who do. Maybe you don’t think we have a fossil fuel problem and that too much is made about green energy. Simply embrace the task of listening to those who do!

Then, reverse every example of putting yourself in someone else’s thought pattern that I just illustrated. The goal is not to sway you or your opinions but to cultivate compassion and tolerance.  To overcome objectivity and to create an understanding of the other in the presence of disagreement. When we see each other as unrepeatable miracles of the universe, we create space for others who look, think, act, and do things differently. We overcome objectification by stopping the treatment of another person as a utility.  We cultivate a sense of compassion that preserves the dignity and respect of all people that make up our world.

Ignoring the Obvious While Embracing the Improbable

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“Who so loves, Believes the impossible” — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Addicts ignore the elephant in the living room. It is obvious to everyone that dad, mom, brother, or sister is acting out in addiction. Yet, nobody confronts the issue. Everyone pretends that there will be a better day. Nobody admits that addictive behavior is running rampant. You drink the Kool-Aid of denial and project that the family is good and everything is going just great. 

Families with untreated substance addictions are not the only ones who ignore the obvious while embracing the improbable. There are families who project being very religious while ignoring that dad is a serial philanderer. There are couples who project the image of harmony and happiness in public but who privately barely speak to each other. Is it hypocritical? Sure! Yet, over time those who ignore the obvious gradually learn to believe the improbable is real. There really isn’t a dead dog in the living room!

Businesses and institutions also ignore the obvious while embracing the improbable. There is a certain type of game that is played. Once I worked as one of the ministers at a large dynamic church. It was promoted as the largest of its kind. The lead minister avowed and reported that several thousand people attended his church each Sunday. It was questioned so he asked that I organize a count of worship goers for six weeks. After the allotted time, I reported that there were 1000 fewer people attending the worship service than he boasted. He was very angry and insisted that his estimate was correct and my count was wrong. So we pretended that 1000 people were there that were not. Eventually, the infrastructure of embracing the improbable implodes and reality deflates perception like a deflated balloon. When you ignore the obvious it will eventually become devastating. 

Everyone is tempted to embrace the improbable. We don’t want to face the obvious when the reality is disappointing. 

Historically, many did not want to think of John Kennedy or Martin Luther King as philanderers but they were. Many wanted to ignore that steroids in baseball were a problem, but they were. I wanted to believe that Lance Armstrong was an unbelievable athlete who did not cheat, but he did. What is obvious, and that which is improbable, bump up against each other throughout life.  How do you sort or sift what is real in your life?

1. Don’t play games. Face what is real in your personal life. There are payoffs for people who play games. The games that I reference are not “Ha-ha” games. They are games that you keep you safe in a dysfunctional family. Every family creates rules and gives messages about what is OK and what is not. Family is the cocoon in which children learn to interact with the outside world.  When a family is unhealthy, a child will not know the difference between what is hurtful or not. The sphere of their family world is all they know. Unhealthy families become rigid so their rules and regulations become gospel and make it difficult for new information from the outside to penetrate the protective sphere of family influence. So if dad gets drunk on Fridays and screams at everyone or slaps mother because she said something he didn’t like, it is easy for a child in that environment to interpret that all families live like this and that walking on eggshells around dad, with fear and anxiety, is a normal part of everyday living. It takes time and deliberate action to demythologize your parents and the family rules that dominated you. You must first recognize how unhealthy family rules and messages impact you in a negative way. Without this deliberate action, your tendency will be to ignore the obvious and embrace the improbable. The process is unnerving and likely will trigger guilt for questioning the fundamental beliefs that your parents taught, depending upon how dysfunctional your family of origin is. If you learned that you are not to question the authority of your parents, then be prepared to struggle with guilt.  You may need the help of a therapist to detach from the guilt and the rules of your family. They are powerful.

2. Once detached, train in observing your behavior around authority figures and the culture you engage at work and other organizations. It is normal to want to please those you work for or with. When things don’t go your way, pay attention to how you respond. Notice when you become triggered and overreactive. Pay attention to what goes on emotionally underneath the surface about the issue that triggers you. If you have a patterned history of struggling with authority figures, it is a signal that you have unresolved family-of-origin issues to address. Maybe your struggle is that you tend to go along to get along. It might mean that you won’t address a principle that you believe in for fear of rejection. On the other hand, you might find yourself quibbling and irritated without knowing why. What you think is a personality conflict might be an issue of unresolved family-of-origin work with your parents. If you don’t address these issues you will repeat ignoring the obvious and embracing the improbable. You must pay attention to your behavior and the games you play as well as the rules of the games other people play. When you learn to detach from both, you will respond from a position of strength and not weakness.

3. Embracing the obvious opens the potential for the impossible. Nothing changes until it becomes real. When you identify the elephant in the living room, you can do something about it. You can separate destructive behavior from the person. You stop playing a game and identify the destructive behavior for what it is. You transform behavior that is experienced as nonproductive to being a curse and destructive into a blessing of resolution and relational connection. This is the essence of what love is about. It is not ignoring what is hurtful but it is leaning into the obvious. Seeing the obvious with mature compassion and love is the way to responsibly create a different world. Love teaches you what is beneath the surface. It helps to see what is hidden to the eye but known to the heart. When you embrace the obvious you can allow the wisdom of love to work its magic in transforming relational dynamics in family, work, and the culture at large. Breaking through denial and facing the dead dog in the living room is necessary to heal unhealthy relationships. This form of love is the dynamic that transforms the impossible within you and creates possible healthy relationships with those whom you engage.