coping

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. 

Hate Management

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“There are only two ways: either we love–and love in action is service–or we put hatred into action and destroy.” —Mother Teresa

When I was a junior in high school, a classmate, Chuck Fuller, shot and killed five members of the Cox family who lived in a country house a little ways from town. All the victims were children ranging from ages 5 to 16. He had been dating Edna Cox at the time. The motive for Chuck’s tragic behavior was unknown. Some thought he was upset because Edna’s parents denied his request to marry her. Others thought it to be because Chuck believed that Edna’s parents demanded that she work too hard with domestic duties around the house. I suppose only Chuck knows for sure. A couple of summers after the tragedy I worked at a summer job with one of the surviving Cox children, Tim, who was my age. Of course, he was still reeling from the tragedy with grief, anger, and hate. 

Throughout my life, I have reflected upon the tragedies that seem to happen all around us every day. I have wondered how long a person should wallow in the extreme pain of grief and hate when faced with the sheer tragic results of loved ones killed from senseless mass murder, childhood sexual abuse, or any of a number of tragic endings of life.  I have often thought that religion and its emphasis upon a relationship with God would insure and insulate people from  extreme feelings like hate. Certainly, religious communities encourage people to avoid hate and in some cases to run from its presence. Christians admonish believers to forgive just like Jesus forgave. Yet, it doesn’t seem to work. Maybe, because you and I are not Jesus! All world religions encourage believers to quash and eradicate hate from their lives. However, who doesn’t hate? None of us would be so cruel to suggest to Tim Cox that he not hate the perpetrator of mass murder of his siblings. Be that as it may, what are you supposed to do with this bitter and biting experience of hate that at some level we all experience?

Here are a few suggestions to consider:

1. Lean into hate. I know it is counterintuitive to suggest that someone embrace hate. However, over the years I have learned better to embrace hate because for sure it will embrace you when you face senseless loss, deep disappointment, and dominating oppression. Hate is an energy that cannot be ignored or avoided when facing a serious crisis that alters your way of living. It is a powerful feeling that must be reckoned with. It is uncomfortable, even suffocating in its impact. 

I once met with a man who walked into his bedroom with his partner being sexual with two men he did not know. Everywhere he goes in his mind, the image of relational betrayal stalks him like bloodhound tracking dogs. He simply cannot get away from the vile hate he felt. I suggest that you make an about-face from running away to facing the reality that an awful experience has happened and that you need to embrace the actuality that you hate the person, the experience, and the results that exist. Don’t minimize or get lost in trying to explain away your feeling of hate.

2. Direct the hate to the person and the oppressive system that promoted the hurtful behavior. Many people are fearful and hesitant to admit what and who they hate. So they don’t. They walk through their lives with a chip on their shoulder, allowing the venom of hate to spew onto anyone and everyone they encounter. This approach to hate keeps you stuck in what hurts and leaves a venomous footprint of hate wherever you go. 

Some people live out the mantra  “don’t worry, be happy”. They live the life described by the late John Prine in his song the “The Other Side of Town” and “A clown puts his make-up on upside down—so he wears a smile even when he wears a frown”.  These people live a life of self-sabotage. No one really understands what their frown is about because they are always smiling, hiding what hurts. People and systems can be oppressive. Naming the hurtful person and the hurtful behavior is a must if hate is to be addressed. Further, you must identify and call out the oppressive system that allowed the hurtful behavior.

So, for the unfortunate client who walked in on his partner’s infidelity, he must name the infidelity and call out his partner who betrayed him. Further, he will need to draw critical attention to the dysfunctional system in the relationship that allowed for the oppressive behavior of infidelity to exist. At some point, he will need to unearth the way in which he embraced the improbable–the partner relationship is solid–and ignored the obvious–we are in deep trouble. You may need help to see where you were blind to the relational distance that was present and growing over time. Hate is an energy that enables you to address wrongful and hurtful behaviors perpetrated by others toward you.

3. Transfer the hate to what you love. There is a fine line between hate and love. You can only shift from hate to love when you become indelibly clear about what you hate. The experience of hate is an energy that requires responsible adult administration. If you become stuck with who or what you hate, bitterness and resentment will take over your existence. Martin Luther King once said that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Yet,  love is not operational by ignoring what is hate-worthy–unfair treatment, domination, and injustice. It requires an adult to transfer the energy of hate by embracing what you love.

Some people say they love others but have not addressed their own self-hate. There is an African saying, “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Maya Angelou once said, “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ “ When you do not learn to transfer the energy of self-hate to self-love it becomes very difficult to overcome hate with loving acts. 

Bitter or Better? Living in the Broken Places of Life

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People with disabilities are often professors to the world regarding coming to terms with broken places in life. We all experience broken places in our lives–some less obvious than others, some less socially judged than others. Yet brokenness and limitation are universal challenges all humanity must face. When we don’t, we contribute to life imbalance. At this point, addicts can be triggered by addictive demands and take up too much space in relationships by wanting what they want when they want it. Life imbalance can become extraordinary in terms of how people contribute to global warming in its many forms of polluting our world and becoming insensitive and ignoring other people’s needs for survival. The COVID-19 pandemic became worse when people ignored limits, choosing to not practice responsible living, and endangering more vulnerable and susceptible people around them because they too, want what they want when they want it.

People with observable disabilities often learn how to incorporate limitations within life because they have no choice but to come to terms with their restraint and challenge. When you don’t come to terms with your limitations in life you will succumb to becoming bitter which becomes an obstacle to learning how to become better. Today many addicts are stuck and unwilling to surrender to the acceptance of their limitations. They resent not being able to have whatever it is they cannot. Addicts are not alone. Many non-addict people are stuck in the same place. 

One of life’s challenges is to figure out how to live meaningfully in the broken places of life. When you embrace your limitations, immediately you will feel lonely and obscure. Within there is an urge to do or be what you cannot. When you face your limitation there can be panic, fear, frustration, and resentment. These feelings are threatening, painful, and will stir much discomfort. Reactively, we want to escape or numb the feelings through distraction or minimization. Yet, the key to living with restraint is to learn to embrace your broken places in life. We all have them. Here are a few suggestions.

1: Accept what is. This doesn’t mean roll over and let the powers that be have their way. It means what Fritz Perls said, “Nothing changes until it is real”. You must face the reality of what is before you can change inside in such a way that changes the outside. Eldridge Cleaver once spoke of a “territorial imperative,” suggesting that when people know their surroundings, they know how to survive their environment. You have to know and accept your environment to thrive within it. This means that you must come to terms with your own limitations. To do this, you will need to grieve by leaning into the sadness and loss of what otherwise might have been. To accept certain deep losses of privilege, people, and position, it will be necessary for you to create a supportive group of people to help you through these very painful experiences. 

2: Dare to Struggle. Struggle is a common-thread experience that holds within the capacity of human brilliance. The reason people with observable disabilities can teach so much about broken places is that many who have dared to struggle have discovered meaningfulness and the seed of brilliance within the limitation. Many people choose to curse their restraints or limitations all their life. Nelson Mandela wrote that by embracing the struggle of solitary confinement, he could emerge from prison undiminished. He was able to conserve and even replenish his own beliefs. Malcolm X taught that it doesn’t matter where you start out but where you end up. George Jackson taught that if you are not willing to die for what you believe in, then you what you fundamentally believe in is not deep enough. 

To the world, these people are considered radicals. To people who face their disabilities, they represent words that they have chosen to embrace and have uncovered brilliant meaningfulness through their personal struggles. Many in the world scoff at broken places. Many would like to bury and forget the reality of those who suffer from disability–which in truth is everybody. The Zapatistas have a wonderful proverb: “They tried to bury us but they forgot we were seeds”. There is a fear of being buried by the limitations manifested in broken places of living. Transform your “curse” of brokenness into a blessing by daring to embrace the struggle. 

3: Find meaningfulness in the broken place. Not one of us would sign up for the broken situation we face. I have never known an addict who said they would have signed up for their addiction. People joke about “if sex is an addiction I’ll sign up for that”, until they experience the heartache and excruciating pain that results from sexual out-of-control behavior. The reason many therapists treat addiction is that they are recovering addicts themselves. It’s a way of making meaningfulness from all the madness that exists in the broken place of addiction. Addiction stunts self-realization. People can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread. Frederick Douglass wrote, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. The power that dominates in your personal life will concede nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.” Finding meaningfulness in the broken place of life will require your willingness to struggle. Every struggle with defeat, heartbreak, and loss contains its own seed and lesson about how to make life better and not bitter. Tom Van Arsdale, a friend of mine, wrote, “Peace doesn’t come when everything goes right. Peace comes when you’re right with how everything goes.” The only way to replace bitterness with peace in the presence of limitation is to find meaningfulness in the broken places of life. 

The Sweet Spot of Centered Living

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Every day presents a new set of circumstances and issues in addict recovery. Some days go smoothly without major conflict while other days are challenged with triggers, cravings, and stress that create feelings of insecurity, impatience, and overall struggle. There is no necessary rhyme or reason. It is the common thread of issues that addicts in recovery grapple with in order to remain sober. For sure, staying sober is a battle of resistance with the forces of life that tug and pull to numb out with a cocktail of addictive processes. 

Addicts in recovery learn to create a sweet spot which represents a center of balance in life to respond to life’s provocations. In racquetball, the sweet spot on the court is the space maintained that gives the best vantage to respond to the opponent’s shot. The sweet spot in recovery is the space that an addict creates that offers the best possibility to engage tests and temptations from an empowered position and with poise. Trauma professionals sometimes refer to this space as a window of tolerance. This is a place you are able to self-soothe. You are able to maintain emotional self-regulation. It’s the position that you are best able to access resilience and flexibility. In the midst of everyday fray, you are capable of being connected to your mind, body, and emotions anchored in the window of tolerance. 

Some days just don’t play out in the sweet spot. You scramble to keep up with a busy schedule. People criticize you for shortcomings. Life throws you one curve ball after another. The harder you try, the “behinder” you get. It’s just one of those days or one of those seasons in life. The build-up of stress with physical and emotional fatigue triggers cravings that push you to the precipice of relapse. It’s amazing how quickly you can be right on the edge of disaster.

This experience is what trauma professionals refer to as flooding which can be hyperarousal (fight or flight) or hypo-arousal (freeze). Addicts must pay attention to the warning signs to avoid the pitfalls of relapse. 

Triggers are the memories, core beliefs, feelings, and body sensations which are connected to past traumatic experiences that have the potential to move you out of your sweet spot in recovery. Addicts benefit when they do the homework of identifying mistaken beliefs that block intimacy and monitor those beliefs daily. Rather than going all out to eliminate the belief, simply paying attention with a skillset to shift out of the mistaken belief that enervates and empowers addictive response, and shift into an intimacy-abling belief is all that is needed. It is important to become aware of life situations, relationship challenges, and mental states that fuel mistaken beliefs and address them daily. 

Flashback memories of old experiences are just that! They are not reality in the present moment no matter how powerful they seem. They trigger maladaptive responses and require the grounding skill of “acting as if”, meaning that in spite of the felt struggle, you commit to act doing the next right thing regardless of feeling. It may require ritual breathing, keeping your eyes open, and grounded conversation. It doesn’t mean I must act out in old destructive behaviors. 

Triggers can activate hyper arousal response including building anxiety, impulsivity, reactivity, anger, rage, nightmare, rigidity, and hyper-vigilance. You may notice difficulty in concentrating, obsessive-compulsive thoughts or behaviors or panic, and becoming easily irritated.  Many addicts do program work without ever paying attention to these critical signs of hyper arousal that take them out of their sweet spot.

A hypo arousal response is also a sign of flooding which pulls you from your window of tolerance. This response includes depression, fatigue, not being present, dissociation, feeling numb, going on autopilot, and disconnecting from feelings. You may experience increased aches and pains and not be able to think very clearly. 

It will be important for you to evaluate your typical response to the trials and tribulations of recovery living that pull you from your sweet spot. Managing your ability to return to the sweet spot in recovery requires that you discipline your awareness to recognize the warning signs of flooding. 

Do you most likely respond with freeze or fight/flight given the description of both responses? Many clients have told me that their body experiences periodic aches and pains without ever considering that the source of this discomfort might trace back to a hypo-aroused response to the stressors of life that pull them away from their window of tolerance. Others think medication is needed to quell the anxiety and panic that dominates them every day. Still others are stupefied wondering why they are having nightmares, being so reactive with anger and rage. One reason you may find yourself emotionally eating is because of the fight or flight response to the stress and tension that exists within your life. You may need a prescription to alleviate the intense edge of anxiety that triggers a rageful response. It can be helpful to attend an Overeaters Anonymous group to stop destructive out-of-control eating. Yet, for sure, it will be critical to recognize the warning sign that triggers the emotional flooding. You will need to address the stressful situation and recognize the flood in your life which pulls you out of your sweet spot in recovery. Consider these steps:

1. What expectations do you have in your life and your recovery? Be clear and specific. Are your expectations realistic? We all begin with enthusiasm and a lot of fire in recovery. It will flame out if your recovery goals are not realistic. Be clear and accountable for your bottom lines. A contract without accountability has no bite to it. 

2. Examine the Data. Project out a few weeks. When you get to a certain point in your recovery journey, evaluate if the results are what you intended. Like plays drawn up on the chalkboard at halftime in a football game, the way it works out on the field of recovery may be quite different than what you planned. Look at what you intended when you made your commitment to improve your behavior with your sponsor or in a recovery room. Are your results what you meant to be reality? Be honest, practical, and realistic in your assessment.

3. Make adjustments. This is key. Returning to your sweet spot will require that you work out of your rigidity and become flexible. Things never work out just the way you plan. What you thought would be easy will sometimes be hard. This is the way it is in life, not just recovery. Your working recovery from the sweet spot will require that you be flexible and make adjustments.  Embrace a sweet reasonableness about your expectations. Know when to apply the strict letter of the law to your recovery life and when to be gentle with what you expect from yourself and others. This is a practiced art form. 

The sweet spot for recovery growth requires gardening. Utilize your quiet time each day to recenter your focus. Know your tools for regulation and how to use them. I encourage addicts to create a plethora of recovery tools that are placed on the shelf for resources like a woodworker puts her tools on the shelf of her garage. Practice what you know. It will help you to return to your window of tolerance. It is the sweet spot that propels long-term growth and serenity.

Adjustments – The Key to Overcoming A Fixed Mind

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When you combine addiction with age, sometimes you come out with a grumpy old man. At least that is what it seems like for me some days. Addiction can be like working out. It makes you sore. You want what you want when you want it, but in recovery you know it doesn’t work that way. No matter how hard you work Step 3 to let go and let God, some days are just hard, irritating, and exhausting. Makes you want to swear. I know guys in recovery who live in a constant b******g and moaning state. They’re not fun to be around in a 12-step meeting. God only knows what they are like at home. 

I tell people that as a recovering addict, I wake up most mornings with a bad attitude. In recovery, if you don’t manage your spirit and attitude, you will be in for a long day. So I do. I have discovered that I am prone to become rigid with fear and anxiety which leads to shame, judgmentalism, and sour thoughts about the world around me. These fixed thoughts can fossilize in my brain unless I get out of my comfort zone every day to break up my fixed mind and stretch my thoughts. I open my heart to less-than-ideal situations, to people who don’t think like me, and to situations that are irritating.  Opening my heart with acceptance and tolerance helps to foster love toward me and others in the world around me. 

It is helpful to stop and observe those who adjust to whatever circumstance is presented. Outdoor enthusiasts tend to be this way. When camping out and something breaks, is left at home, or they are hit with a deluge of rain, they just adjust and do the next best thing. Some outdoors people are amazing in terms of how they remain calm, make adjustments, and move on as if it is no big deal. My son Sam exemplified this snowmobiling in Idaho. His machine broke down. He replaced a worn belt that had been shredded with a new belt. The new belt promptly shredded, leaving him stranded about 20 miles from somewhere. Then he broke the tool inside the carburetor of the machine and he seemed really screwed. But, he just hitched a ride with his partner, and we went to beautiful hot springs and renewed and refreshed with nary a major complaint. Later, he had to tow his machine behind his partner’s. There were even yet more hassles trying to get the part fixed. Yet, he just kept adjusting and putting the negative in a positive frame of mind. 

How can an addict do the same when faced with obstacles, disappointments, and times that are tough?

1. Take a deep breath and lean into the difficulty. No one signs up for hassles and frustration. Hassles are difficult, but they are not the end of the world. Most of us live to see another day when it seems everything has gone awry. Sitting with your struggles is a way to calm your mind and heart. Take a few minutes and just be still. Allow the anger, disappointment, anxiety, and resentment to build, then at that moment, it will subside. If you express yourself when these powerful feelings are building, you will hurt yourself and others. If you need to take a break, a walk, a drive—anything that will help you de-escalate, do it. Condition yourself to lean into the struggle and accept it for what it is. It is not glamorous but it works.

2. Be grateful at the moment you most want to explode with criticism, cutting remarks, or just give up. Boy, you say, this is easier said than done. It’s true! So, you must work to train yourself to begin gratitude recognition, not because it feels good but because it will help you adjust and shift away from a bad attitude.  Re-condition your mind from negativity to focusing on positive possible outcomes throughout the day. Gratitude fuels enough energy to plant your feet and your heart so that you can be true to your life source.

3. Rely on your affirmations. I am not a positive mental attitude guru, but if you are one who is stuck in a bad attitude, it sure beats the hell out of hanging out in the dregs of negativity. Yet, this doesn’t happen by simple choice. It requires that you stoke your brain with ongoing positive messages about yourself and the world around you.  When you do this with regularity, it breaks up the sludge of negativity and helps to make the necessary adjustments that make recovery worthwhile.

4. Don’t force your will on to the day’s experience. Have a plan and work on your recovery. Be prepared to shift when things don’t work out as planned. Let the fruit of your day come to you. If you work your plan and shift from a fixed mind (inflexibility), watch how meaningfulness surfaces in the midst of your difficulty. You will be able to bring forth your brilliance from an average day of struggle. Rather than force purpose and meaningfulness, let it come to you with acceptance and surrender to what happens around you, to you, and through you in an average moment each day.

Over the 30+ years I have been in recovery, I have observed many 12-step addicts sustain long-term sobriety. I know many who have very little patience, tolerance, or capacity to adjust when things go wrong. I don’t know any who experience daily serenity but who have not deepened their journey with Step 3 and learned to become flexible, letting go and adjusting to life as it is presented each day.  Adjustment is a life skill that keeps your heart open.  It is a cure for an inflexible, rigid, closed heart.


This new post was written by Ken Wells. In Dare to be AverageKen’s new book, you can embrace healing, peace, and self-acceptance through meaningful insights to discover purpose and fulfillment in everyday life. 


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