Feelings

Footprints That Connect Spirituality

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“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The human body is magnificent. The more we learn about the intricacies of our bodies, the more clear it is that there is an amazing life force that creates and connects all of life on this planet and beyond. Some people believe that as phenomenal and amazing as the physical body is most of who we are is spiritual, not physical.

Volumes have been written about the spiritual world but it remains a mystery. Many who decry religion reject the concept altogether.  Those who believe and talk about the intangible nature of spirituality accept that discussion about its properties can be like trying to nail jelly to a tree. 

Religious practice helps many to chart a course toward the meaning of the spirit world. From a macro view of the world, the influence of spirituality is undeniable…

Today, I would like to suggest a less macro and more micro understanding of spirituality in the common experiences of everyday living. 

1. Spirituality is found in the connection of you to the world around you. Addicts live disconnected. They pull the plug on connection to people and the world around them. Their addiction becomes the organizing principle in life. The affair that is created with addictive behavior has been described as a warm blanket more than once. However, spirituality is about the opposite. It is a connection to all facets of living both organic and nonorganic. Meditation is a recovery discipline that connects one to the world around you in the present moment. Being able to connect to the world around you—the birds, trees, plants, animals, rocks and human energy has been described by some recovering addicts as an explosion of meaningfulness where there was once emptiness. I like to think metaphorically that your feelings are the Voice of God.

When listened to, feelings will tell you essential needs that need to be met in a healthy way. The tendency for an addict is to disconnect from feelings of discomfort. Yet, if you sit with uncomfortableness it will tell you what needs to be addressed in your life. You will need to marshal mature actions by utilizing your wise mind to meet those needs in healthy self-fulfilling ways. This requires mentorship and endless practice. It is not magical.  So you might say spirituality is about mature adult living and you don’t have to even use the word spirituality to capture this life experience. For example, you may find yourself angry. Rather than emotionally throw up in someone’s lap or stuff the experience and pretend it doesn’t exist, take time to listen to what anger is trying to say to you. Feelings are experienced in clusters. Withanger it is often tied with fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, or other feelings. If you take time to sift and sort each attached feeling they will clarify what you are experiencing and when connected to your wise mind you can better address your needs. This is why I suggest that your feelings are the voice of God! Listen to them and they will serve you well. This is a spiritual experience.

2. Spirituality is found in the experience of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the process of being exposed to possible harm. It is about embracing the fear of rejection, of being taken advantage of, and of embracing your human limits. It is not taught, it is practiced. If you do not practice it, you will not learn it. It is about becoming emotionally naked to another. It is risking rejection. It engages a willingness to remove yourself from the center of your universe for the purpose of sharing another’s energy and making space for someone else knowing that they may flatly reject your efforts. 

Vulnerability is accepting this possibility and courageously exposing your heart anyway. It doesn’t make sense to always/only be vulnerable. But when it does it is pursued against all odds no matter what the price. It is a shift from intellectual reason and protection to opening your heart and sharing raw feelings that expose hypocrisy, incongruence andfailed behavior in hopes of finding connection and acceptance. This requires courage but when manifested multiplies meaningful life experiences. Vulnerability is spirituality and counterintuitively creates connection.

3. Spirituality is about the experience of uncertainty. No religion can prove that it is the one true way. Outside of religious experience, no philosophy or experience can prove its methodology of living as the one correct approach. There are many opinions and beliefs. Likely, they are all correct in different ways! You will need to sort out what you choose to think and believe. Ignoring this reality is a choice in itself. For sure, spirituality is a belief plunge into uncertainty. None of us like the experience of free falling. When I was young I would take junior high kids to a cliff at a lake in Wyoming to jump in for a swim. The cliffs were between 50 and 60 feet high! It was far enough to consciously experience the free fall. When free falling you experience total helplessness. There is literally nothing you can do to counter gravity but to fall. This is what it is like to plunge into the uncertainty of spiritual belief. It is having the confidence that in free-falling into your belief, your confidence is not that you will control the outcome but that your spiritual belief will bring you back up. This means that with bravery you are willing to live with the uncertainty that surrounds you every day because of your belief in the basic goodness of who you are and/or the power you choose to trust in your daily free fall.

4. Spirituality is about velvet steel. I call my blog Velvet Steel because of my deep conviction of this spiritual principle. Spirituality is about connection which engages the principle of velvet steel. This concept embraces the word “consideration” which can describe a parent who practices when to apply the strict letter of the law to a misbehaving child and when to back off and go easy. There is no formula. It’s all about cultivating sensitivity to the spirit of another. Sometimes you need to be willing to walk to hell and back to stand for conviction and principle and other times not. It’s about being velvet steel. 

In recovery meetings, there is usually at least one person who sees themselves as the hammer—the steel—and gives feedback from that standpoint. It is common for others to consistently be velvet, being easy toward others hoping they too will be easy with them. It is rare that you experience velvet steel blended in feedback. This is because it is difficult. Often it takes a certain degree of steel to be velvet as well as it is important to share a certain amount of steel while being velvet in feedback. That said, spirituality is not all about rules and regs (steel) but it also includes knowing the rules well enough to know how and when to break them (velvet). Velvet steel is a dynamic applied in many different ways and requires integrity and honesty to the practice for it to be a spiritual practice that heals and transforms behavior. Spiritual practice must include a mature application of velvet steel. In truth when applied with sensitivity it reflects an art form. 

There are footprints of spirituality in common everyday places that are mostly overlooked by those who are in a hurry or a frenzy of everyday living. Take time to notice the footprints of spirituality that will help right-size your everyday walk with meaningfulness and connection.

The Importance of Grieving—Being Able to Bounce Back

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“Grief and Resilience Live Together.” – Michelle Obama

Like some of you, I grew up in a chaotic household. There were a total of 12 kids by the time I left home for college. There were my 4 sisters and 4 brothers plus my oldest sister’s 3 children. My parents raised them for much of their lives. Chaos became normal. I learned to stuff the impact of trauma and act like it never impacted me. This included the fist fights between my brothers, my dad’s rage-full outbursts, physical violence, sexual abuse, religious abuse, and abandonment.

I hid the trauma by playing sports and having a lot of friends. The only way you might see a crack in my armor was that I did not thrive academically and was very shy around girls. However, these two issues were considered normal and other kids had these challenges as well. The warning signs for concern were well hidden.

I remember one time watching one of my brothers fight a neighbor when he was a teenager. The neighbor wrapped a chain around my brother’s head and blood spurted everywhere. I watched my brother throw the neighbor to the ground and pummel him into submission and unconsciousness. I thought my brother had killed the neighbor. I ran home and did not say anything because my mom told me I would get into trouble if I went to watch the fight. I learned to stuff my fear and anxiety and pretended to be calm and casual the rest of the evening.

I also learned to stuff the pain and fear of sexual abuse perpetrated on me and other family members by a pastor and leader in our church. The offending pastor would tell me how mature I was for my age in that I never showed my feelings of hurt in the presence of trauma and crisis. I wore that affirmation like a badge and in the presence of many traumas that happened to me and my family. I thought the way I stayed cool and stuffed my feelings made me very resilient. 

This worked very well for me later when I was a minister and I listened to listen to one horrible story after another. There was grief from death and loss from suicide. One person even shot and killed himself over the phone while I was trying to talk him out of it and get him some help. I had learned to stuff that tragic experience and so much more for so long and thought this was what it meant to be resilient. 

But then came a day when I could no longer stuff things down. It was triggered by a college student in my college ministry who committed suicide. I met the family at the hospital where she was pronounced dead. The family in their grief lashed out at me and blamed me for their daughter’s death because I had not prevented her from checking out from a mental hospital. It was an illogical accusation. I walked away from that conversation numb and disoriented. I had been in these situations many times before. But, this time I could tell I was unravelling inside. 

I went into a deep funk of depression, became non-functional, and lost 40 pounds over the next 6 weeks because I ate very little.  It felt like trying to push down one more crisis and stuff it in my memory. But, there was no room for any more. In turn, when I tried to push one crisis down another memory would spring forth. It was like a game of whack-a-mole—like old springs that could no longer be held down. all the past memories of trauma that I previously stuffed sprang up all at once. What I once thought was being resilient turned out to be dysfunctionally stuffing pain and never grieving any of the past trauma. 

Resilience requires grieving. You cannot simply recognize the reality of deep hurt and figure that you can go forward acting as if it never happened. You may think you are OK and act as if you are fine, but it does catch up with you. Trauma researcher Bessel Van der Kolk is correct in saying your body will keep the score! The trauma is kept in the tissues of your body. Eventually, I stumbled into a treatment process that helped me work out what had been stuffed deep inside. 

You will need to do the same.  Here are a few considerations to create true resilience. 

1. Scrub the wound. This is what I had to do. I went through the Rolodex of memory and grieved every memory of abuse that came up. It included all the sexual abuse, physical domination, and abandonment from my childhood to the present. I beat pillows/broke my therapist’s tennis racquet— not one but many of them. I had more rage than I ever thought could exist inside. There was a lot of energy expressed and tears shed. There were many ambivalent feelings about God, relationships, and my work. I sat with all the feelings and let them come to the surface. I learned that the only way to address them is to go through them. It wasn’t pretty but it was necessary. I learned to fall apart and put myself back together. I didn’t need to be mollycoddled, I needed to face the reality of what is. 

2. Practice regulating your emotions. At some point in your recovery, you must sit with those feelings that you avoided through addiction and a cocktail of other experiences.  When I went through a crisis, there was no somatic experience, EMDR, brain spotting, etc that is available today. However, I did engage in extensive experiential work including regressive processing. I practiced sitting with emotional discomfort and learned to go down and come back up. I practiced living with uncertainty. It is connected to the freedom of release from the bondage of past trauma. It felt like free falling into emptiness at times. It was all part of the process of learning to sit with discomfort. I am glad I did. Sitting with the discomfort, sharing what it was like, and expressing my emotions helped to regulate my feelings. 

3. Grieve the accumulated losses. If you stuffed the pain as I did, there are so many losses to unpack and grieve. Deaths, opportunities, relationships of both family and friends and the lack of presence in the moment all need to be grieved. For me, it was the emptiness that was particularly difficult to sit with. Also, it was the loss of relationships from those who left but remained among the living that has been the most difficult. Those who died I was somehow able to ease into letting go and giving them back to the universe. But, those who remain who I felt was part of my blood and bone, family members and friends who cut off relationships, have been the most difficult losses to grieve. Some losses will hurt the rest of my life. You will probably experience the same.

4. Use your imagination to create the inspiration for a positive and sustaining future.  In recovery, I learned to take advantage of the power of gratitude and to resource inspiration for fulfillment in the present moment. Gratitude combined with my imagination has transformed pain into purpose and empowered purpose from grief and loss. Affirmations, connecting with people who have similar experiences but refuse to remain a victim, and using the “as if” tool have all deepened belief in myself to create the destiny that I am here to fulfill. You will need to do the same. The possibilities of healing are all around you but you must activate your intentions. 

    In the end, Michelle Obama has it right “Grief and resilience” go together. 

    Stuck in Reactivity

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    Relational healing is difficult when addiction is involved. Many times the destructive behavior damages trust beyond repair. Most addicts suffer relapse that further dims hope in a relationship. Couples who persevere toward a healthy future demonstrate resilience and perseverance that extends beyond common expectation. 

    Rebounding from broken trust is a challenge for both partners. Purposefully maintaining a healing path requires a resolution and dedication that many couples are unable to continue to recovery completion.  

    Yet, there are those who do. There are many pitfalls to address when trust is shattered with addiction. There is a cascade of questions that seem to never end: Where did this come from? I never saw this coming. How could I have been so blind? Why can’t I not control what others seem to have no problem with? I have failed so many times, what makes me think that I will ever stop? What could I have done to prevent things from getting so bad? These questions and many more overwhelm the thinking processes of couples devastated with addiction. 

    There are overwhelming feelings that dominate consciousness in the carnage and aftermath of addictive behavior. Shock and shame paralyze both partners. Anger, rage, and resentment roil oftentimes unabated. Sadness, loneliness, and regret dominate and suck happiness and security from the relationship atmosphere. Is it any wonder that two hurting people seeking rescue from the calamity of addiction get stuck in relational reactivity toward each other?

    Many things have been written about various aspects of relational healing from addictive behavior. I want to share observations with suggestions that I have noticed with those who seem stuck in reactive response toward the other partner while attempting to heal broken trust caused from addictive behavior by one or both partners. 

    1. Allow for a season of time to embrace raw feelings. This seems to be a no brainer. It’s not like I can stop it. Depending upon who you are, embracing feelings can be a challenge. As you embrace your emotions, you will need to direct them. This will be difficult. Initially, throwing up raw feelings might be instinctive. Yet, you will need to focus the direction of raw, unedited feelings away from your partner. Saying it straight and raw is necessary. Practice directing it away from your partner when it is about him/her. This does not mean to avoid telling your partner your feelings directly. This is also necessary. Emotionally vomiting vitriol and cutting invective in the lap of your partner because of their hurtful behavior is seldom healing. Unedited raw intensity should be redirected away from the party that hurt you. You can communicate your feelings about being hurt or betrayed without being abusive. 

    2. Come to terms with your hate, rage/anger, and resentment. It all makes sense. I believe it is healthy to recognize and embrace all of your feelings. Yet, it requires adult responsibility. A common component for all powerful feelings is that they are all energy fields. The responsibility that you will have regardless of what happened to you, is to direct this powerful energy in the form of feelings in a responsible way. If you are pissed, be pissed! The key is to direct your focus with responsibility. Without your partner present, take a tennis racket or its equivalent, and exhaust yourself beating a bag of pillows in a garbage bag, screaming out whatever profane name or word you need to express. It will help to get rid of the pent-up energy within your body. This has been proven to be true. However, even if you think you have the right to direct unedited feelings toward your partner, I have never known it to be healing. If you say, ”I don’t give a shit if it is healing” then work with that. When stuck in these powerful feelings, you most likely will need the help of a trained therapist who can guide you through your feelings.

    3. Re-direct the energy. You have the power to re-direct the powerful energy attached to feelings from hurtful behavior from the person who hurt you to the issue that hurts and to what you want in your life instead of the hurtful behavior. You can use the feelings of hate and anger to say “No more” to abusive behavior and redirect the same energy to say “Yes” to life-affirming boundaries and experience. This often requires therapeutic guidance and certainly demands ongoing practice and conditioning.

    4. When you are stuck in reactivity toward your partner, pay attention to how old you think of yourself in your reaction. It is common to subconsciously expect more from your partner than you would from another adult. When you get stuck with this expectation, it is often helpful to think “How old do I feel right now in my response to my partner’s behavior?” At first, the question will seem awkward to answer. However, upon reflection, the intensity of reactivity is likely to point toward the age of a small child. When this is true, it is important to recognize that a small child is incapable of navigating and making adult decisions. You can shift away from this position by giving the power back to the mature adult that you are. You can take a deep breath, return to your adult self, and figure out the next best response. You can determine the next best response from the powerful adult that exists within you. It will less likely be one that is reactive. When it is, you can apologize and do it over. 

    You can practice shifting away from reactive response by recognizing that you had given the reins of responsibility to the small child in you. As you condition your response with training, you will be able to better shift away from reactivity to responsible behavior that will contribute to healing and not chaos. 

    I cannot overemphasize that this shift in mentality from a small child to the powerful adult that you are will require training and unending practice. Further, it will require accountability and living in consultation with those in your support group. It is difficult to take responsibility for your overreactive response when your partner has committed egregious and harmful behavior toward you. You will need to embrace humility and accept your human frailty to be able to respond with maturity. Yet, if you will commit to this path in your healing journey, you will increase the likelihood of getting unstuck from your reactive response and improve the odds of healing from addiction and betrayal behavior.

    Curse or Blessing: The Transformative Metaphor Every Addict Encounters

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    Meaningful insights in recovery addiction often surface in paradoxical metaphors. “To be in control you must let go”; “in order to win you must lose”; “To know God you must be willing to embrace what you don’t know”— are common anomalies that contain significant wisdom and understanding. Sleuthing wisdom from the intensity of addictive craving requires the capacity to sit with addiction and not run from its claws of control. In order to transform addiction into sobriety and serenity, an addict must cultivate the capacity to sit with the struggle. In this manner, he/she can know how to manage the intensity of impulsive desire. It sounds so nonsensical. Many times addiction management suggests that you do the opposite of what seems compelling. Recovery is often counterintuitive.

    Addiction recovery can be like bushwhacking when hiking. The term “bushwhacking” is when you go hiking off the trail and make your own way. My son Sam will do this at times. Once, he worked with one of my colleagues and a family in the wilderness. My colleague described that Sam took them on a long hike off the trail. They made their way through briar patches, hiked over boulders, down creek banks, and up over brush piles. It seemed that the entire hike was experienced as one big obstacle. As they made their way, irritation, uncertainty, and growing insecurity began to mount in my colleague and members of the family who followed. However, Sam appeared to meander casually without much consternation as he made his way seemingly aimless through the brush. What seemed acceptable to him was one big obstacle course for those who followed behind! Finally, they reached a place of clearing where there was a break from the brush, even a nice little stream that provided beauty and a breather from the tension of bushwhacking. Family members began to chuckle about the journey and engage in the profound subtle experience of peace in an outdoor space that they would not have known had they not bushwacked with Sam on that day. Suddenly, arriving at a desired destination wasn’t so important anymore. In the moment, the boulders and brush that had been such an obstacle were now experienced as a terrain that set free the pent-up emotions in exasperated relationships and opened each family member’s heart to new experiences of bonding to each other. The obstacles that were challenges on the course of bushwhacking became opportunities for closeness and family connection.

    Addiction recovery invites us to reframe our experience with obstacles as something that flows in the universal stream of life. When we see our addiction as only an irritation or obstacle—like a boulder in the way that must be climbed over—we miss the insight and wisdom that the obstacle or addiction would share.

    The curse of addiction is an obstacle in life that is designed to be transformed into a blessing. Most addicts are at first dumbfounded by this thought. How can intense addictive craving ever be a blessing? It seems so antithetical. Many curse the addiction and hate themselves for being an addict.

    I like to think that addictive craving is the voice of God trying to communicate legitimate needs that must be met in a healthy way. When an addict craves for a drug of choice, it is important to listen to what is going on underneath the addictive urge. In other words, there are legitimate needs and feelings that must be addressed. For these needs to be met, an addict must tune into his/her feelings. Typically an addict will disconnect from unwanted feelings like shame, anger, disappointment, resentment, etc. Most likely an addict would rather numb out with a drug of choice than to sit with the intensity of discomfort of an unwanted feeling. Immediately triggered, an addict will move in the direction of acting out or curse the addiction while asking for help in some way. Either way, the addict will be unfriendly to self and the addiction in particular.

    We talk about “the addict” within. Many times I hear guys say how much they hate their addiction but are glad for their recovery friends. They live in an adversarial relationship with their addiction. It makes sense. You want to live free of destructive behavior so why not hate your addiction. My concern is that I don’t see that working toward long-term serenity. Treating your addiction as a curse has proven helpful for short-term sobriety for some. However, it is my experience that addicts rob themselves from long-term serenity by hating themselves for being addicts. It leads to more of a “white-knuckling” mentality.

    Buddhists speak of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward oneself. Serenity requires self acceptance of all of yourself, warts and all. Addicts who learn to work with their addiction through deeper acceptance become more aware and acute to listening to their addiction with effective dialogue. Running from addictive urge fuels ignoring needs that must be met in healthy measures. It’s not like saying “I’m fine with my addiction, no big deal” or “I just love being an addict!”. None of us who know addiction would ever sign up for that torment. Yet, working with addictive urge and listening to decode what need is left unmet is critical toward emotionally growing yourself up by using that which would be destructive and transforming it into something constructive. Addiction recovery is another form of growing yourself up to the adult that you are destined to be. Everyone, not just addicts, have the assignment of emotional maturity.

    Growing yourself up sounds sophomoric. Befriending addictive urge is not about giving yourself a pass or rationalizing addictive behavior as “OK”. It is about deepening Step 3—“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”. The goal is that through surrender and acceptance, you work to transform addictive response to a healthy self-parenting response. Hating and despising yourself is always counterproductive. Addicts who stay stuck in this mindset agonize over every temptation and destructive behavior and usually don’t change in the long term. They usually settle for painful cyclical lapsing behavior.

    Rather than hate yourself for having the urge, practice listening to the craving, accept it, and choose responsible self-care. This involves removing yourself from a high-risk situation and asking your “wise mind” what need must be met in a mature way. Build strength through consulting your outside support for clarity of immediate intervention. Figure out what is going on underneath the addictive urge. Once you identify what you are feeling and what need must be addressed, surround yourself with encouragement to cultivate intimacy rather than isolate through addiction behavior. When you do this effectively you become a mature adult meeting your needs through healthy self-parenting. This strategy is simple but not easy. It takes a lifetime of conditioning and training yourself. You never reach perfection but throughout life, you just get better and better. Essentially, addiction is an intimacy disability. By listening to your addictive urge you become capable of transforming an intimacy disability into intimacy ability when you parent yourself and meet the need with intervention and self-care. It comes back to the reality of a paradoxical metaphor of being able to take what is experienced as a curse and transforming it into a blessing. This is the way of mature recovery.

    Self Defeating Illusions

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    “Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure.” — John Legend

    People love to indulge in fantasy about the rich and famous, the powerful, sensational murders, and other human tragedies. Entertainment media shows, like TMZ, provide titillation that whets the appetite of millions. Tabloids as old as the National Inquirer and more recent as Page Six or Perez Hilton provide tidbits of gossip to satisfy the insatiable palate of those who keep the paparazzi thriving in business. There is an illusion that if somehow you can know the intimate details of someone else’s fame, fortune, or tragedy you can live vicariously through them. 

    This form of fantasy is a self-defeating illusion that leads to empty living. When you blink your eyes and wake up to reality you realize that your life is in no way close to what you spend much of your time daydreaming about. 

    One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside and feeling like an imposter. This would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic and true to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As novelist Richard Rohr put it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self.” (Immortal Diamond)

    There is always a struggle to separate your True Self from your False Self. True Self is what you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of God. It is that divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny. The False Self is the image you put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you. 

    There are “wannabes” in every social setting. There are wannabe recovering addicts, wannabe marketers, wannabes around the rich and famous called “groupies” etc. The truth is that there is a kind of wannabe in every person in existence. 

    The question is am I willing to fulfill what is required to be the person I wanna be? Many of us prefer to live in fantasy and delusion. So if I am 5’7” tall it is unlikely that I will ever become a star in the NBA. That said, I won’t have a problem sitting in the middle seat of an airplane either, whereas it is a nightmare for the NBA player. When you live in fantasy it is difficult to sift and sort what is real. Your False Self identifies with the imposters around you. When you are not your True Self, you feel inadequate and ill-equipped to be authentic. It has been my experience that when you are real and genuine, you feel and even fit better in your own skin. Like in The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the rabbit —the “real never rubs off, it lasts forever.  A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person hyper-vigilant from a fear of being caught not measuring up. It triggers people to get stuck with image management. When you ground yourself in your genuine, authentic True Self, you let go of these anxiety-producing behaviors. You feel more at peace. 

    The greatest challenge to the True Self is living an incongruent life. When what I feel is different from what I say and what I do, I can get stuck in incongruent living. Everyone is incongruent sometimes. But when it happens over and over again, this spells trouble as you begin living a double life. This is the dilemma that an addict must unravel in order to establish consistent long-term sobriety. When what an addict thinks and values is in tune with what s/he feels, this begins to harmonize with what s/he says and does, resulting in sobriety and serenity.

    There are many strategies to help you anchor yourself in your authentic self and avoid getting stuck in self-delusion

    #1: Manage Paradox. While congruent living is the goal, the reality is that everyone is inconsistent, incongruent, and hypocritical in some ways. I have not known an addict in recovery who has always been consistent with every recovery task. Paradoxically, authenticity is about recognizing failures, personal flaws, shortcomings and accepting the reality of being human.  For many people, confusion and uncertainty trigger incongruent living and hypocrisy.  The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition.  Paradoxically, the way to become anchored and centered in values is to recognize that the opposite is not only possible within you but is real. The beginning of managing unwanted traits that exist within you is to recognize and accept their presence. Only then will you be able to manage your false self and anchor to your true self.

    #2: Live in consultation with accountability. When incongruent, inconsistent, or hypocritical behavior appears, you’ll want to have someone or a group hold you accountable. Consultation is foreign to most addicts. In seclusion, they make every decision and have learned to depend only upon themselves. Their best thinking may have gotten them stuck in destructive behavior but it is familiar territory and is difficult to change.

    The strength of accountability keeps human weakness in check and can be humbling when the reality of shortcomings sets in. So, rather than impersonate sobriety or serenity, an addict in recovery can humbly confess their shortcomings knowing that the power of accountability will call them back to a centered, congruent life. 

    #3: Authentic living requires listening to what’s inside. Feelings are magic and prescient. When you listen to your feelings and not try to escape they will provide the wisdom and understanding of not only who you are but also how to express who you are. Pay attention to your deepest desires. When you feel hollow inside ask what would bring fulfillment to you. 

    What brings exhilaration and enjoyment? What do you know, deep inside, that you can be really good at? What is it that sometimes burns within you to be expressed or done? The answers to what we can be, what we must be, come from within through asking ourselves these questions. It comes through listening to your feelings. Learn to not avoid whatever you feel. The solution to your pain and frustration, however valid, is to acknowledge your feelings. Learn to sit and listen to unwanted feelings like shame, anger, hate, grief, loneliness, and anxiety. Embrace and feel every one of them. Once you validate their truth let go and find peace within yourself. The process is not assembly-lined. The deeper the hurt, the longer the process. Yet when you go deep with listening to what is inside you will gain wisdom for the next step in your life. Happiness is not controlled by another person, even though we may have convinced ourselves it is. You will only experience true happiness when you learn to listen to what is inside. Listen to your feelings.

    #4: Practice Telling on yourself. To preserve your True Self, practice telling on yourself. For addicts at 12-Step meetings, once you tell everyone your deepest, darkest, most shameful secret and feel the acceptance of those attending, it is difficult to return and tell the same people that the behavior you committed to not doing—you did again. There is a fear of rejection and embarrassment even though you are in a room full of addicts. If you have had weeks or years of sobriety, and have become a sponsor or a trusted servant in the meetings, there is even greater fear of rejection if you need to honestly disclose that you have been acting out against your values. It is difficult to tell on yourself. Yet it is absolutely necessary in order to establish congruency. Beyond the confession, what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to recenter and live a sober life. 

    The same dynamic is true for an entrepreneur who has announced a bold declaration but has miserably failed to follow through. You will need to come clean with yourself and a selected group of support in order to reclaim your true authentic self. Although being your True Self takes hard work, it is the only way to establish the confidence needed to build an authentic foundation and avoid getting stuck in self-defeating illusions.

    Your Feelings and Thoughts Do Make a Difference

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    Addicts are vulnerable. They don’t know how to recognize or manage feelings, particularly strong and powerful ones. What they do know is to split off from their feelings and pretend they are just fine. Once I was sitting at a wedding reception and a clergy colleague who sat next to me began talking.   He had a close friend who was also clergy and was allegedly run out of his church because of a trouble-making family who accused him of sexual abuse. What he didn’t know is that the accusatory family was mine, and I was one of the family members that was abused. I wanted to kill him on the spot. But, I didn’t. What I did was smile and become quiet. I think I excused myself to go to the bathroom. 

    Addicts are pretty good with these splits. When they are hurt, numbed with shame, seething with resentment, or dominated with anger or hate, they know how to compartmentalize their feelings and pretend they are not there. They use this ability to manage and control their environment that is unsafe. The problem is that inwardly they lose themselves by failing to recognize their effect. They drown in the feelings that were triggered or go to great lengths through maladaptive behavior to avoid their emotions. Addicts learn to avoid the obvious and embrace the improbable.

    They live in a constant state of vulnerability not knowing how to recognize or manage the feelings that have been buried. They are unable to draw from their own internal resources because there aren’t any. They remain in constant need of self-regulation resources. They think the resources are external.  It’s a fantasy that is never realized. Since painful, rejecting, and shaming relationships are the cause of their deficits in self, they cannot turn to others to get what they need or have never received. With few other options addicts turn to their drug of choice. Why, because the dopamine rush delivers what it promises. To get away from the hell of the pain that slaps them around. Any reason is a good reason to use. 

    Drugs of choice migrate.  Addicts might find a way to shut down their use of heroin, booze, crystal, molly, or blow.  They just migrate to the next fix. It can be anything including workaholism, exercise, food disorder, rage, and even caretaking. It is common for recovering addicts to create a new cocktail for their choice of drug. It will always be that way until they get to the root cause of needing a fix. Here are a few things to consider.

    1. Understand your pain. Slow your life to a pace that you go inward and embrace what hurts. Dare to embrace average. Go inside to the common places of your life and face what you feel. None of us got through our childhood unscathed. There you will find the wounds that need to be scrubbed. It hurts but you are already in pain. Why not make your hurt a healing hurt rather than wallowing in pain that never stops looking for a fix that is never enough.  You must resolve the pain and stop pretending.

    2. Learn to regulate your emotions. Practice recognizing what you feel, particularly the powerful feelings of shame, resentment, anger, and hate. Learn to sit with them and experience embracing unwanted emotions and notice that you can get through them without having to numb out. You will need help. Step outside yourself and ask for that help even though it feels awkward.

    3. Utilize others for support. Finding your tribe for support is important. This is a long-term problem for addicts in recovery. When in crisis, addicts surrender to a 12-step fellowship. Often, they don’t go deep in a consistent manner to live in consultation with accountability about their feelings. You will need help holding your feet to the fire about relationship issues. Addicts often focus on the fundamentals of 12-step work in order to address their drug of choice. But many miss out by not using that same support to regulate their feelings in other aspects of living. It is important to utilize your community of support around the feelings that come up in your everyday relationship life.

    4. Become an observer of what you think about your own thinking and learn how to reflect on the mind of another. Learning to manage your emotions is necessary to understand your thoughts about yourself and the world around you. People tend to be insular. Life becomes a mind-numbing hamster wheel in that we just do what we do. Take time to pause and observe what you feel. Utilize contemplation. Think about your thoughts. Learn to identify and give voice to the different parts of your mind that are contradictory to other parts. Learn to sift and sort by listening and recognizing the truth that is in each thought. Then practice integrating your thought discrepancies with your own wise mind. It is necessary to transform behavior. Emotional maturity and secure attachment are capacities to reflect on your own internal emotional experience and to make sense of it. It includes being able to observe and reflect on the mind of others and connect with them. The way you read others is important. It begins with learning to manage and make sense of your own affect and thoughts.  

    Managing your feelings and thoughts creates self-agency. Developing emotional management is necessary in cultivating a true sense of self. When you don’t you foster a false sense of self which blinds your awareness of feelings and thoughts. It further darkens your understanding of ways in which your behavior hurts yourself and others. 

    Oh! By the way, I did circle back with the insensitive clergy colleague and insist that he listen to the gory details of sexual molestation by his clergy friend toward me and my family. Though he was stunned with silence, he heard the other side of the story. I have since wondered if that did not change the way he shared the narrative with others.

    Water and Ice—Two Symbols of Emotional Wisdom

    Many 12-step groups allow for a feelings check, frequently at the beginning of a meeting. Many people struggle to identify and embrace feelings. Sometimes, a group member will struggle, and then share a thought while attempting to express a feeling. An example might be “I feel like I am in a pretty good place today”. We use phrases “I feel like” or “I feel that” to express our emotions, but that will keep us stuck in our heads. It is easy to gloss over an inward feelings check and instead move toward listening to others share or prepare your mind for what you want to say. However, the feelings check, based on what’s inside, is a crucial exercise in support groups. It creates an opportunity to settle in on what you are really feeling. It challenges you to sit and listen to what the feeling has to say to you. 

    The spirituality of Step 2 asks that you humbly listen to the voice of God as you understand God. The concept of God is wide and varied within the framework of a 12-step community. It includes God as a personal entity, God as a No-God to those who do not believe in a God and yet seek to access their higher self, God as an unknown universal creativity energy, and others.

    I have found help in accessing the phrase the “voice of God” as a metaphor toward connecting with higher power. Some people testify they have literally heard a voice from God. Some people feel moved with impressions when they read sacred literature. Others sense the direction of a kind of higher power in the collective wisdom that is accumulated in a support group. There are many sources of wisdom that people have experienced. 

    One of the repeatedly overlooked sources of wisdom are revelations that come through the experience of feelings. Many world religions emphasize the value of feelings toward cultivating intimacy and gaining wisdom. It has been my experience that every emotion is leavened with insight, understanding, and enlightenment. The challenge is to slow down and lean into the message that each feeling brings. For example, I have experienced life-long depression, usually low-grade and chronic but at times it has spiked to a major part in my life. Rather than simply treat with an antidepressant, which at times was needed, I have learned to listen to the wisdom from the “voice of God” (a metaphor) in order to gain insight regarding what has been out of balance in my life, where to self-parent or reach out for help. Many times medication is needed to treat depression but often sitting with depression to gain its acumen is overlooked. 

    Most addicts can be triggered to act out when disconnected from their feelings. This familiar practice becomes the breeding ground for incongruence and double-life living. Unwilling to sit with emotional discomfort, an addict can choose to say one thing and then do another. As a recovering addict, you have to teach yourself to stay with unwanted and uncomfortable feelings in order to meet the legitimate needs that exist underneath the craving for an addictive act out. In this way, an addict can learn to transform what seems to be a curse (the craving) into a blessing (awareness of legitimate need). It becomes an invitation to personal emotional intimacy in your life. The challenge is to stay with the feeling to gain crucial insight and understanding. The only way to open your heart when it is closed is to sit with the discomfort of an unwanted feeling. 

    Pema Chodron describes this concept with the metaphor of water and ice. The metaphor of free-flowing water can be an analogy of open heart and open mind. On the other hand, ice is a metaphor of getting stuck with a closed heart and unwanted feelings. When stuck you can become over-reactive, out of control, even into a rage or rant, and overwhelmed by other powerful feelings like shame and fear. The way through to wisdom is to become very intimate with the ice. It is important to sit with it and to know it well so that you can gain insight and know what to do to care for yourself. It wouldn’t be helpful to throw the ice cube away. When you bring the warmth of open-mindedness, the ice begins to melt. 

    To illustrate, take an ice cube and place it in the palm of one hand while covering it with the other. The human warmth of your body will melt the ice into flowing water until the ice is completely melted. This has been my experience with sitting with unwanted emotions. Sending kindness and warmth to myself has always been what I needed when facing emotional discomfort. It overcomes addictive craving. You will recognize that to do this you will need the help of your support community.

    Here are four suggestions to make open-hearted kindness (flowing water) from unwanted feelings and difficult circumstances (ice):

    1. Practice sitting with the discomfort of unwanted feelings. The only way to learn that you can get through a difficult experience is to stay the course and work through it. You may need to reach out to your support. In your recovery, it can be like teaching your dog to “stay” when it so much wants to chase the cat. You simply work to condition yourself to stay with the emotional discomfort. Gradually, you will increase your staying power and in time the wisdom of self-care will dawn in the horizon. 

    2. Be your own best friend when you lean into unwanted feelings. In the midst of discomfort be kind, even gentle, with yourself. Befriend not just the good parts of who you are but your whole self, warts, addiction, and all. Treat yourself like your own child that you have always loved, even though at times their behavior is not lovely.

    3. Integrate/Don’t segregate. Close-minded living segregates and isolates. It promotes intolerance, disrespect, and antagonism within self and toward others. Segregation advocates the desire to “ditch your addict”, even to hate that part of yourself. It expresses itself with self-criticism and judgmentalism toward others. Integration promotes acceptance of self, patience, forbearance, humility, and generosity. We learn to become unconditionally friendly toward ourselves. In the framework of that generosity, we learn to listen to our unwanted feelings and cravings. We learn to respond with healing self-care. 

    4. Learning to cultivate wisdom from your feelings requires that you fuel perspective and vision for self and others. Cultivating skills to sleuth wisdom from unwanted feelings is a life-long pursuit. It challenges the systemic fantasy of “embracing the improbable and ignoring the obvious” that has been so ingrained in many of us from families of dysfunction. For most, the progression happens slowly and subtly. Yet, this valued skillset is not only for you but a legacy for the generations that come after you. At times, this journey may seem lost. Nonetheless, those who stay the course will transform intimacy disability into deep connection with self and others. Each time an addict listens to the wisdom imbued in an unwanted feeling, it opens the door to lessen the grip of addiction not only within but toward future progeny in the generations to come.