detachment

 Agility, Adjustment and Resilience—Necessary Capitol to Achieve Sobriety, Serenity, and Success

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When you begin a project it’s impossible to prepare for all the obstacles, difficulties, and challenges that lie before you. It doesn’t mean don’t plan. It just means you need more than the right connections, financial resources, and blueprint for creating what you hope to achieve.

A fixed rigid mindset will be your detriment. It is important to be stubborn with your intent to fulfill a dream. It is also essential to cultivate physical and mental agility. Adjusting your plans and approach in order to complete your goals is crucial. People who are unwilling to adjust and create new pathways become unbending which contributes to falling short of fulfilling their aspirations. 

Here is a list of considerations that come into play while you attempt to fulfill your pursuits whether it be entrepreneurial success, addiction sobriety, emotional serenity, or whatever else you aspire to achieve. 

#1: Intensity. Creating dreams requires intensity. Merriam-Webster defines intensity as extreme energy or force expended.  A synonym for intensity is passion. You will not be successful with a half-hearted effort. You must prepare your heart to be intense. 

When I was a kid my favorite football team was the Chicago Bears and my favorite player was middle linebacker Dick Butkus who just passed away a few days ago. Butkus was a living incarnation of intensity on the football field. During plays he was knocked down, he popped back up and sprinted to the other side of the field to make the tackle. Those who played or watched him knew that he was intense about achieving his goals on the football field. 

When I was Little Leaguer, I was intense about winning. When I pitched, if the players in the field were not “talking it up” with chatter, I would go to the teammate and get on his case. I thought that was what it took to win. 

We are not all football or baseball players or fans. Some people in pursuit of achievement do not fit the projected stereotype of one who is intense. They may appear calm and quiet but when you connect with their spirit you discover a burning intense desire within. The takeaway is that intensity is a necessary ingredient to fulfill whatever you are passionate about. A half-hearted effort will never fulfill your dreams. 

#2: Detach and surrender what you cannot control. You will not be able to control all of the factors as you pursue your goals. You must learn to be flexible and live life making constant adjustments. The more rigid you are, the more you must have what you want when you want it, and the less likely you will create your dreams. It’s not like you cannot create success but it is more likely success will begin to own you rather than the other way around.  Rigid people lose sight of the goal along the journey and even once the goal is accomplished, there is a subtle sense of hollow fulfillment. 

Practice the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot control, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Detaching from what you cannot control, being clear about your lane of responsibility, and staying there is the hardest simple thing to do in pursuing a life goal.  Dream fulfillment is dependent upon your capacity and commitment to let go of what you cannot control. Detachment is a daily lifestyle, not a one-and-done event. 

#3: Play the hand you have been dealt to the best of your ability and you will win! When things don’t work out as planned, it is easy to become stuck in self-pity. You will need to assess what are the strengths and resources you have to draw from and adjust your focus and strategy as you move forward. If you allow yourself to get bogged down in discouragement, self-pity, and self-defeat, you will not fulfill your dream.

Sunny Weingarten is a perfect example of someone who refused to be mired in self-pity. Sunny was a friend of mine when I was a minister in Denver, Colorado. He was a key member of the board of directors for a citywide ministry that I engaged. Sunny was struck down with polio when he was a young boy.  His days were controlled and confined to an iron lung every day of his young life. 

Sunny was determined to live life outside of the iron lung.  As a young adult, he disciplined himself and practiced forcing air into his lungs sort of swallowing and forcing air into his lungs outside of the iron lung enclosure. Eventually, he conditioned himself to live up to 10 hours outside of the lung. He purchased a Van, hired a driver, and engaged in life, including activities on my board.  He was a powerful energetic force. He began attending Denver Bronco football games and never missed a home game for over 20 years! In the course of time, Sunny tapped into his creative spirit and designed a lightweight portable lung that allowed him to operate outside of the lung for the entire day. Soon, drawing from his entrepreneurial spirit, he organized a company and flew around the world making a living selling his Port-a-lung to those in need! 

Sunny demonstrated passion with intensity, a willingness to surrender what he could not control, and played the hand he had been dealt as well as anyone I knew. Though confined to a wheelchair in the day and an iron lung at night, Sunny lived 70 years of life a true winner. 

When you are discouraged and tempted to wallow longer than necessary in a mud hole of self-pity, remember an old saying that says “When you don’t like the way you are sailing, don’t curse the wind, change your sail”.

Play the deck you have been dealt with intensity, detaching from what you cannot control, and what you desire and hope to create will become reality.

Everybody Has a Story—Here’s a Piece of Mine

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I grew up in a family of 9 children and my parents raised my oldest sister’s 3, so essentially there were 12. My parents became religious—zealously so. Life revolved around the church. During all the meetings, projects, prayers, fasting, and evangelistic endeavors, we were on the front row. Everything was a distant second to attending whatever the people of the church were doing. If my parents were not in church, they were working their ass off. Dad always had 2-3 jobs and mom was the church janitor and cleaned offices and houses, all to keep their heads above water. It was the only way they knew to keep it all going at home. Of course, everyone worked. I got my first job at age 7 and bought my own school clothes from age 12 on. It was a necessity but also an escape from my mom picking out stuff I didn’t want to wear.

The church I attended was a cult. Every member of my family was abused by the church—all 14 family members. Apocalyptic obsession, “we were in/you were out” mentality, mind-altering trance, and funky theology of perfectionism fueled the other traits that make up a cult. As a kid, once you experienced all of that, the last thing you wanted your friends to know is that your family was entangled with all of this shit. So isolation became a lifestyle. Separated from everyday living created vulnerability and accessibility to the abuse doled out by the organizational hierarchy. In our family, the abuse included religious, physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual. Church leaders were considered God’s anointed so when confronted the plaintiff was accused of being the perpetrator, trying to stir up trouble for God’s anointed. When the pastor was outed for sexual abuse, members of the church reversed the accusation and attacked the children who were molested for defiling the pastor. A true cult? Oh yeah!

So what did I do as I grew up? I became one of them. James Baldwin once wrote “It’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself. You become a collaborator, an accomplice of your own murderers because you believe the same things they do.” So, what did I do, I became a pastor in the same sect with the same emphasis on religious abuse if not physical and sexual abuse. I became a zealot toward saving souls for Jesus just like my parents were, only yet more intense. I was ordained to uphold vows of selfless love toward others, self-sacrifice, and personal purity—always an emphasis upon purity! As clergy, whenever you met with the echelon leaders of the church during annual meetings, there was the piercing question “Do you believe and practice the doctrine of heart purity?” Of course, everybody innocently lied and said “Yes”. Many of us painstakingly tried to be pure with ridiculous results!

The apostle Paul had his moment of truth on the Damascus road with a blinding light. You can read about it in the New Testament. I had mine in a padded cell of a psychiatric ward in Denver, Colorado. After years of participating in a cult as a child and drinking the Koolaid of exclusivism, I pounded my Bible till my fists were bloodied in recognition that God had abandoned me and the church was never supportive and protective with any degree of reasonableness.

You would think that with this reality one would detach and move on with life. But, the tentacles of cultish doctrine entangled my life existence. It took another 8 years to unravel my soul from the underpinnings of cult belief and practice till I was able to free myself and seek other employment to feed my family.

For the next 27 years, I further distanced myself from the mentality and impact of cult living. It has been like living in the desert in a porous shack and trying to sweep all the sand out of your house. There is a continuous struggle with flashback recollections, relational experiences, and inner voices that trigger vivid memories as numerous as tiny grains of sand that constantly invade the caverns of my mind. As I age, there is less cultic sand in my mind and distorted grit in my mouth to grind. I anticipate some sand to always be present.

After over 30 years of ordination in cultic praxis, I decided to detach. Ordination involves an elaborate process and ceremony with you being anointed by the hierarchical leaders stating that you will follow the organizational beliefs, and practices in clergy duties and in everyday lifestyle. If you don’t, you can be defrocked. The list of those defrocked are many. However, if the church fails to reflect the same practice, essentially there is no accountability. The church can defrock the pastor for malfeasance but no one can defrock the church. I decided to do that.

I created a de-ordination ceremony in my backyard. I began with the Serenity Prayer. I included a Billy Talent video “Devil in a Midnight Mass” commemorating my sexual abuse. I read a sacred poem I wrote about lifelong shame entitled “Stalking the Lion King”. I read sacred writings written by Native Americans. I read emotion-focused letters, putting hierarchical abusers in an empty chair. Sometimes I gave them hell, Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I was emotionally indifferent. I read several inspirational, life-affirming poems, some written by me, some by others. I meditated on personal affirmations.

Then I conducted a burning ceremony where I burned the Creeds, my ordination papers, my earned theological degrees, and the book of rules and regulations called the “Church Manual”. I conducted a smudging ritual to remove the negative energy and burned sage to rid my space of undermining spirits.

I concluded by writing the abusive acts committed toward me and the community that I experienced by the church on small sticky notes and attached them to a wind lantern. I lit the wind lantern and watched the practices of human oppression perpetrated in my church experience float away. I wish to be gone forever but probably not. I do have a commitment to myself to no longer be my own oppressor that the church was to me that began in my youth.

So that is a piece of my story! What is yours? What can you learn from your story? Here are a few suggestions to consider:

1. There is personal healing power in every story—yours included. The greatest tool for healing is found in your personal story. Embrace it. Explore it. Be brave and allow the pain of your story to teach you what you need for healing. Carl Jung concluded that when derangement occurs, it is because the personal story has been denied or rejected. Healing and integration come when people discover or rediscover their personal story.

2. “Life is meant to be lived forward, yet is only understood backward”—Soren Kierkegaard. Plan for tomorrow. Live in the now. Understand through contemplation of yesterday. There is great insight from the past for those who are willing to courageously sift through the rubble of family and relational experiences. You are not your past experiences. You can transform your future by internalizing wisdom and brilliance that can only be found through the archaeology of past relational encounters. You don’t have to spend your life navel-gazing. Yet you learn so much about your future journey in life from yesterday’s weather report.

3. No one passes through childhood into adulthood unscathed. As a therapist, I sometimes hear patients tell me they had the perfect childhood. This always triggers suspicion. Folks are folks. Every parent makes mistakes. There is no perfect childhood environment. It is not helpful to poke and pick looking for excuses and blame. It is helpful to de-romanticize childhood and parents so that you can anchor yourself in your own adult parenting skills. In therapy, we distinguish big “T” traumas from small “t” traumas. You may not have experienced major traumatic issues as a child, and you may need help identifying the small “t” traumas that keep you stuck in your false self. Your false self is that which you want to be, wish were true but in reality isn’t. It becomes a way of seeing the world in distortion and false impression. Leaning into clarity of missed childhood needs, even from caring parents is an important part of your evolving story.

4. Detach from the hurt and embrace the healthy. Detachment is a process not an event. There were many personal steps I took before detaching from the unhealthy hierarchy of the church. Your rendezvous with detachment is unlikely to focus on the church. You will need to create your own journey. It may be circuitous but it will be personal, and if you go the distance you will create equanimity in your life and healing in your heart.

In The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd wrote “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Don’t let your life story remain untold. Allow it to lead you to personal healing and transformation. It is the reason you are here.

Sitting With Your Own Insides

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Someone once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere!” Human relationships trigger worry. Everyone wants to be liked. You worry that what you might say or do is hurtful to someone you care about. You try to control others so they avoid unnecessary painful experiences. This is true in marital relationships when one partner tries to control what the other does around cooking, driving, or other annoying behavioral patterns. 

Sometimes people get stuck with obsessional control. This is common with dysfunctional family relationships. Family members become enmeshed and attempt to control what another family member thinks or does by trying to live inside their skin. It is very intrusive and destructive. Sometimes families control what children do for play, making friends, and creating pressure about career choices. Families strongly influence the choice of a life partner. Cultural, religious, and economic status are family factors that play a critical influence on an individual’s decisions about life. To the extreme, family members lose sight of where they stop and another family member starts because of intense enmeshment. 

Addicts lose themselves in their addiction. They take up too much space. If addiction is a big balloon in a small room, the addict takes up all the space and smashes everyone against the wall to get what they want when they want it. They don’t know where they stop and other people start. 

The first order of business in recovery is to get the runaway train going down the track (the addiction) stopped. The second order of business is to establish boundaries with friends, family, and work. Addicts act like my old Craftsman lawn mower; without a governor, it revs up faster and faster until the engine finally explodes. Addicts need a governor. That’s what learning boundaries are all about. They are essential for addicts to recover.

Addicts go to a treatment facility to stop the train from running out of control down the tracks. Most treatment facilities are very good at helping an addict recognize that he/she is out of control. By the time 30-60 days of treatment is complete, an addict can see and think straight for the first time in years. They feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

The test is when they return home, the dysfunctional dynamics are the same. An addict is expected to come home and fit right in. “Treatment was for you. You need to know how to fit in with your family. We are your people who love you!” Comments like this greet a recovering addict upon home arrival. Family members walk around the dead dog in the living room. The family game of ignoring the obvious and embracing the improbable is in full operation. The unhealthy roles family members play are solidly enforced. The family is in denial of its dysfunction. Members project that the addict is the identified patient. Hurtful enmeshment is denied. If the addict confronts hurtful, dysfunctional behavior, he is met with comments that he/she is being dishonest and is delusional. “That’s the reason you went away for treatment” it’s concluded. All too often the family remains the enabling system that fuels the addictive behavior. Dysfunctional families cannot see the forest for trees. Essentially, nothing changes in the home environment that the addict returns to.

Friends also are impactful. Most addicts must create an entirely new set of friendships. This is difficult. Addicts who follow through and do this or at least try, wrestle with not belonging, loneliness, and feel ostracized. It takes courage to overcome despair, eliminate delusion, denial, and dishonesty and minimize defensiveness while recovering from addictive behavior. 

Learning to sit with what you feel inside is hard to do. It requires training to sit with an uncomfortable experience and not numb out with an addictive choice. It is common for addicts to become busy with recovery and avoid sitting in discomfort. You can become busy with doing recovery tasks, attending recovery meetings, completing 12 steps, and participating in recovery social gatherings which adds to the busyness of doing life with all of its demands and never learn to sit with your own insides. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Learn to stay in your own lane. This is what boundaries are all about. Much has been written about boundaries and recovery. Successful recovery requires that you create internal boundaries that help you to separate from trying to please others when you need to care for yourself. You will need to create strong external boundaries that do not let others treat you with disrespect. You cannot make a person respect you but boundaries with consequences will take care of you when others treat you with scorn and disrespect. Work with a therapist, sponsor, and recovery friend to fine-tune your boundaries in order to improve your capacity to sit with your own insides.

2. Train in detachment. Learn to separate from high-risk scenarios, family settings, and friendship situations that you know are destructive to your recovery. Addicts are intensely fearful of being abandoned. It started with their family of origin. Detaching from hurtful situations is a way of growing yourself up into the powerful adult that your destiny requires of you. It’s scary. Yet, it is an important way to teach others to respect you and treat you with dignity. Detachment will never occur without the voice of assertion. Other people will learn to appreciate your values when you assertively detach from unhealthy behaviors. Sometimes when you step back, family members will take note and offer a new respectful appreciation for your boundaries. Other times family members might misunderstand, feel hurt, and distance themselves from you. Either way, you will need to practice internal and external boundaries that promote self-care. Your willingness to sit with this discomfort will be a critical proving ground for building a solid foundation for recovery.

3. Learn to grieve. Addicts need to grieve the loss of addictive behavior. It involves embracing the entire gamut of feelings. When you don’t grieve your losses you will tend to live outside of yourself. This creates distance from what’s truly going on inside. Grieving embraces the resentment for no longer having your “friend” of addiction choice in your life. That resentment needs to be felt and expressed directly. You will need to cry for yourself. Many men learn to cry for others but have been told they cannot cry for themselves. There are many things to grieve in recovery. Loss of childhood, loss of honesty and integrity, loss of childhood dependency needs not being met, loss of curiosity, adventure, and loss of choices are only a few issues that need to be grieved.

4. Practice affirmations. It takes courage to sit with your own insides. When you do, clarity will appear. It’s not magic but it is assured. To do this task you must engage in affirming yourself. The practice of self-affirmation is an age-old recovery skill set that is most often overlooked. Yet, it is helpful to affirm your feelings. Learn to practice self-affirmation about your sense of being. Make it a part of your daily experience in the same way you do physical hygiene. You will find it transformational. This skill practice is nothing new but revolutionizing. 

Addicts in recovery have learned to sit with their own insides. They deepen their own self-awareness with keen intuition. They learn to navigate dysfunctional systems by staying in their own lane, detaching from what hurts, and grieving the inevitable losses that come in life. In the end, addicts who practice affirming themselves assert the transformational power of recovery.