Environment

Thermometer or Thermostat

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Last year, I  spent several days in the cold country of Illinois and then the mountains of Idaho.  I slept outdoors one night when the thermometer read minus 2 below zero. My son had given me a warm sleeping bag that he bought in Nepal. I wanted to try it out. So I did. The next morning I was warm inside my bag. Everything outside was frozen and frosty. I was happy to step into the warmth of the house where the thermostat controlled the heat at 72 degrees. 

Thermometers simply reflect the temperature of the environment. In Arizona, thermometers reflect the temperature of unbearable heat in the summer while indicating deep freeze temperatures in the Idaho mountains in the winter. A thermostat has the power to regulate the temperature in both summer and winter. It is connected to both heating and cooling systems. Even though very hot or cold, the thermostat can regulate the temperature to a constant 72 degrees when set. 

Each of us has the opportunity to be a thermostat and set the atmosphere in the environment of the world we live in. Leadership at every level has this responsibility. When I enter a 12-step meeting room, immediately I recognize the influence of leadership in the room. I sense who it is who has influence by the tone that is set during the meeting by those who lead the group. This is true of every organization in which I have participated. 

In my world as a professional therapist I have been involved with many organizations throughout the various years of service. Leaders of organizations have demonstrated charisma, various levels of skills, and different degrees of ability in public speaking. Some people just dress and look like a leader. However, that does not make them one. Most leaders of the organizations I have participated and worked for were thermometers, reflecting the atmosphere and attitudes of the people around them. There have been few leaders who have played the role of being a thermostat. Here is what being a thermostat means to me in recovery and leadership in life.

1. Be true to your heart. Leaders who have influence and make a difference tend to follow the convictions of their heart. Easier said than done. Most cave into peer pressure. This is true whether observing a politician’s voting record, a partner wanting to please a spouse, or a business owner living by his/her convictions, ethics, and personal standards.  Most designated leaders pander to please others and do not fight for  principles. Long-term recovery and growth require that you exchange your thermometer for a thermostat. Be true to your heart.

2. Be willing to stand alone. True leaders don’t look like leaders, they act as leaders. They are willing to go against popular opinion to do the next right thing. Frequently people look like they are playing the role of leadership. However, statesmanship and persona are hollow unless accompanied with congruency to ethical standards and principles. Recovery teaches one to be true to the fundamentals of healing no matter what. To do otherwise sacrifices sobriety. Countless numbers of addicts have given up sobriety to please someone. Be willing to stand alone.

3. Thermostat recovery people walk the walk and don’t settle with talking the talk. Sometimes in 12-step groups I hear a lot of talking the talk. Some old timers are genuine about their recovery from addiction, but their home life is crap! They have never translated the axioms of recovery lingo into reality at home. They only know how to not act out with their addiction. Be a thermostat and walk the walk at home not just at 12-step meetings.

4. Thermostat recovery people don’t settle for sobriety but anchor themselves in serenity. When you become a thermometer in  recovery you simply act on the feelings you have inside. As a thermometer your life becomes dominated by how you feel each day which can be very unpredictable.  Being dominated by your feelings will set you up to medicate and escape through addictive behavior. You will stutter and get stuck in Step 4 because you have surrendered your power to your feelings of dread, despair, and discouragement. To be a thermostat means that you take yourself by the nape of the neck with determination to complete step work.  You engage the 4th step regardless of fear and anxiety. You do not let those feelings dominate. In the doing you will anchor yourself in serenity.

5. Thermostat recovery people live to give the message of strength and hope to others. The mentality of being a thermometer hovers around the glow and warmth of a recovery group that is safe and reassuring. Thermostat recovery people push out to share hope and strength to others.  They make an impact on the community in which they live. Living the 12-principles and working the 12-Steps in all that you do, with the people you engage, in all areas of life, is a true testament to being a thermostat in your world.


This new VELVET STEEL 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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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.

When The Well Is Dry

I watched a National Geographic program once that presented the nurture and development of wolves. In this program, the mother died unexpectedly. The four pups were not quite ready to strike out on their own, so they hovered next to the dead carcass, sucking on the tits of the dead mother. The program filmed the pups hovering, hoping for life sustenance. The filmmaker flashed forward to snow falling and beginning to cover the carcass of the mother. Each of the four pups drifted off in separate directions. The narrator stated that the pups now will never return to the mother or each other. It was their time to move forward in life or die with their mother. 

This portrayal is a picture of recovery growth. Life is dynamic. Bob Dylan crooned “Times are A-Changin’”. There have always been arguments to refute biological evolution. However, what is irrefutable is that who we are tomorrow will not be the same as who we are today. 

Many addicts grew up in unpredictable environments. Those who sought refuge from the chaos and turmoil created by addiction pandemonium found safety in recovery rooms. The acceptance and closeness from other addicts gave us what we never received growing up in our family of origin. The 12-step community created a much-needed safe haven for those of us who were driven by the demons of addiction. 

I love the Old Testament story about the children of Israel crossing the wilderness headed for the Promised Land. The story goes that God provided manna from heaven while the people of Israel wandered through the wilderness. It was great. Wake up, go out, and pick breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was all provided by the generous Yahweh! Most wanted to settle and hang out for good. Why move forward? Let the Promised Land remain distant. We’re good right where we are! There were many problems and conflicts that ensued for those who settled and refused to move forward. 

It’s that way where the rubber meets the road in recovery, too. The cocoon of support provided through a 12-step community is only as safe as you are willing to commit to personal growth. Growth means that you will not remain the same . . . neither will the environment compared to when you first entered for recovery. The very nature of a 12-step community will intensify the need for change. 

Most of us don’t want change. Yet, without change, you stagnate. At some point, you can plateau in your recovery and build a fortress within a 12-step group that helps you not act out, which is good. Some people hover around the fortress and refuse to dig deeper for new recovery growth. 

It is not to say that we outgrow our need for a 12-step group. Growth will require that our recovery moves past our 12-step group into the lives of our family, community, and occupation. It is not that we evangelize others to do 12-step work. It is that we promote acceptance, principled living, tolerance, and a transformative lifestyle in all aspects of living. 

Here are a few considerations:

  1. Defensiveness and complaint are signals for needed growth. When someone touches an area of pain in your life and you bristle and push back with defensiveness, this is a signal that you need to grow in this area. For example, someone pushes you to stop being so codependent, to look at your payoff toward self-harm and sabotage and you scream back at them that either they don’t know what they are talking about or that you have got this! If you scream loud enough people will leave you alone to address your dilemma. You can justify your pain and lack of growth because of your misfortune. Like a little kid who skinned his knee, you can go through 12-step living hollering “Don’t touch it” and no one will, and you will seek someone to commiserate in your misery. Recovery is a river that moves forward with or without you. If 8 or 9 people say you’ve got a tail, at least look at your rear in the mirror. Pay attention to the signals that tell you to grow!
  1. Simply adjust. The dynamic of life presents the need for continual adjustment. Your rituals are interrupted by a sick child. You have a flat tire on the way to a 12-step meeting that you were scheduled to present and that you stayed up late working very hard to get just right. Your sponsor stands you up and you sit at a coffee shop twiddling your thumbs and pissed. People let you down and some days everything just goes wrong. The solution to all of these everyday experiences is to simply adjust. Be flexible. Be adventurous. Take a deep breath and look for the nugget of wisdom in everything that you deem has gone wrong. None of us are perfect with this skill set. Perfection is not required. What is required is that you know where the tool of “adjustment” is on the recovery shelf and you know when to reach for it and how to use it. This only requires practice. Adjustment isn’t fancy. It just works.
  1. Shift your focus away from the goal of day count and zero in on how much you can grow. Goals are important. A commitment to lifetime growth is more meaningful. Your commitment to growth will take you to new unknown territory in your life that will stretch and develop you beyond the safety zones that you found in early recovery. Take the risk and go with it. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up a 12-step community and work. It means that it will take you way beyond to help you fulfill your destiny. Be willing to throw everything up for grabs for the sake of personal growth and depth. You don’t need to ignore your personal limitations, but you will need to go deep within. There is no limit to going deep inside. Go for it. 

There are times in life when you find that the well you have gone to is dry. It’s time to dig a new well. Time to launch into the deep. Like the wolf pups who recognized it is time to move on to something new, it’s time for you to move ahead and grow. Whether you are just beginning your recovery journey or you are an old geezer like me, today is the day to remove the excuses and go deep.