grieving

Dating Protocol Considerations to Avoid Painful Past Patterns

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According to the most recent data from the American Psychological Association, the divorce rate in the United States is around 40-50% for first marriages. As you might guess it is higher for second marriages and on up from there. You would think with those kinds of repeat numbers, you would slow the process down so that you don’t repeat the second time around the agony you experienced the first time. But, it doesn’t work that way. 

The relief of getting away from the agony of a relationship that hurts and the need to fill the emptiness of being alone, and without the intrigue of a romantic relationship, overpowers perspective and contemplative consideration. Add to all of that the rush of oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine that comes with the honeymoon feeling of a new relationship, and you have a cocktail kick that blows past rational thought and deliberation. It all contributes to why the likelihood of failure in a second marriage is higher than the first. 

Analytically, we can figure it all out. Yet, even after enlightenment we go against what we know and plunge down the same rabbit hole we just escaped. 

Why is this? There are many reasons. People carry with them old tapes of mistaken beliefs learned from their family of origin that create relationship sabotage. Why consider something that might spoil the fantasy relationship I think I can have in the here and now? Many people choose to run from what hurts and never want to stop and scrub the wounds that come from betrayal and various forms of intimacy disability. All this makes sense. It’s just that doing the same thing you have always ever done, doesn’t work toward healing a broken heart that comes from a dysfunctional relationship. 

So, here are some considerations to think about regarding relationship healing, before engaging the next exclusive romantic relational experience.

1. Take some time to catch your breath. You have been running so hard to fix the hurt of the old relationship in ways that did not work, or you are running as hard as you can to get away from the relational pain. Take a time out and catch your breath. Relationships in distress or pursuit burn a lot of emotional BTUs. How much time do you take? One size doesn’t fit all. Some people need 6 months; others need a year. The time you need is unique to you. After you have calmed the chaos, the amount of time you need to heal before engaging in a serious new relationship will vary. The point is to catch your breath before rushing ahead. 

2. You will need time to grieve. How much time? Again, it varies. The rule of thumb is that you will need more time than you are thinking about right now! You will need time to grieve what used to be and no longer is. You will need to grieve what never was that you hoped would have been. You will need to grieve the reality of what is. It’s hard to engage in grieving when the oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine are rushing through your veins with someone new. Most of us don’t know how to grieve deeply. We cry, feel empty, might get drunk, and on we go to the next relationship. But, there’s the need to go deep and feel the hurt of the sadness of what will never be again. Relationship ties undone with family, the loss of the good times, the hurt of the pain, and the impact on others (kids particularly, friends, relatives, etc) all must be embraced experientially before moving on to something new in a serious relationship. The truth is that you will need to create space in your life to grieve and let go of what used to be periodically for the rest of your life. It isn’t meant to grovel in the pain of an old relationship. Yet, recognizing painful experiences in past relationships and letting go is a part of the pattern of being an adult. The time it takes you to sufficiently grieve will vary and you will be wise to consult with counsel and to live in consultation with support people. 

3. Learn to be with yourself. When you end a relationship there is an empty spot. There is a great temptation to fill it in with another relationship, work, travel, and a lot of other activities. Our culture provides so much stimulation that you can just go from one high to the next. But, you won’t heal yourself that way or know who you really are by doing a blitz on stimulants that come from dating and other activities. Embrace the winter of your life and learn from it.

4. Unravel the patterns that sabotage intimacy. If you don’t you will keep doing it and likely blame the other party for your relationship unfulfillment. Some people can date and unravel this self-sabotage behavior at the same time through counseling and group support. Most of us cannot. If you have never been in a riptide current at the beach, you would be wise to stop swimming and learn from those who have experienced and managed the riptide. Ignoring this suggestion is how many people drown in the next relationship doing the same things as before. Unraveling your self-sabotage pattern that contributes to relational failure is difficult. You will need to address unresolved family of origin issues that contribute to the way you do relationships today. Soren Kierkegaard was right when he wrote “Life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. To move forward and not self-sabotage you will need to look backward and understand what brought you to where you are today. On the other hand, it’s easier to blame your past partner and keep truckin’ wondering why you keep hooking up with partners who hurt you.

5. Sex is always an issue: If you are stuck in the juggernaut of sexual addiction, sex has become an organizing principle of your life. Any reason is a good reason to be sexual. Most likely your behavior is about objectifying another person. Objectification is a way of using another person to get your needs met without dignity and respect or consideration of others. Non-addicted people can objectify as well. If you use another person’s space to meet your needs without proper scrutiny of that individual’s needs then you are objectifying that person. Some people say no sex for 6 months or 1 year after a breakup! Maybe so or maybe not! It makes sense to discipline your tendency to accelerate physical connection so that with moderate speed you are better able to distinguish the difference between intensity of feeling and true intimacy. All too often with oxytocin, adrenaline, and dopamine in control, people thicken the plot to an unhealthy relationship by mistaking intensity for intimacy. In this equation, addicts can’t get enough of what they don’t need and many non addicts adopt an unspoken mentality that my half plus your half will make us a whole! On the contrary, you take what is and make it less because the other person cannot supply your basic need for self-care, so 1/2 + 1/2 = 1/4, not a whole. 

6. Don’t forget the impact on other key relationships: This doesn’t mean you don’t date. It just means that you don’t date lacking sensitivity to the community of people who provide support and who respect and love you. This includes careful considerations about dating others who were once romantically involved with your friends, family, or workmates. Most companies have policies that govern romantic relationships at work. However, not all are the same and many people try to bend the rules to engage in romance. It’s important to be careful and considerate in comprehending the consequences of romance in these situational dynamics. Children need to be carefully considered. Bringing a new person in and out of their lives can be very destructive to them without thoughtful consideration of their care. Each of these impacts requires consultation and accountability with people who are in your support group. 

We are all designed to experience connection with others. How we engage romance requires thoughtful preparation and consideration so that the charm that wells up within does not become harm that hurts others.

Looking For Truth in Wrong Places

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“Tough love and brutal truth from strangers are far more valuable than Band-Aids and half-truths from invested friends, who don’t want to see you suffer any more than you have.” ― Shannon L. Alder

We live in a time when there is significant spreading of misinformation. Each news media has its own bias. Some purposely promote false information to create chaos for the strategy of undermining what is real. It is difficult to identify what is truthful and what is a lie. It is a scary thought that I might be looking for truth in the wrong places.

This is no less true in the world of recovery. Addicts live in a world of make-believe and lies. Facing the truth about addiction is far too painful. Addicts can be unwilling to stop the compromise, the promotion of half-truths, the blaming of others for their own unhappiness, self-sabotage, and otherwise bullshitting themselves and everyone around them. They often give themselves a pep talk about why they cannot quit, but deep down they know that it’s all bullshit. When they have to circulate around sober friends and family they don’t ask questions, not because they are fearful someone will lie to them, rather because they fear someone will tell them the truth. 

Not unlike others, addicts guard and keep their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be. They don’t want to be told any different. In uncanny fashion, people try to convince themselves that they are in total control at the very moment they are losing it. Everything that can be said about ducking and diving truth by a user, not in recovery can fit for one in recovery and to the rest of us who don’t identify as an addict. 

People often tell themselves lies, in order to reach what they consider acceptance in difficult situations. In reality, they fool themselves into believing they are healed until that lie is corrected by time, further information, or their own personal growth. True healing comes when we learn to not avoid truth but face it. Only then will we be set free.

Here are some observations about seeking truth in recovery:

1. Hiding from the truth will prevent you from experiencing vitality and serenity in your recovery program. Facing the truth will lead you back to the pulse of what is sacred in your recovery journey. 

2. Many in recovery ask program buddies questions they already know the answer in their hearts. They put the question out to the group because they don’t want to face changing their system of reality.

3. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. (James Baldwin) Seeking truth is this way. If you are seeking new truth via a new therapist, new treatment modality, new sponsor, psychedelics, etc. but you are not willing to face the truth that you already know, it is like hiking around the entire base of a mountain looking for a shortcut to the top and ending up where you began. 

4. When all the dust settles, the most difficult truth for an addict to face is to let go of what you cannot control. Letting go and surrendering what you cannot control is the common thread that weaves addicts together and creates a tapestry of serenity. 

5. When I won’t let go and surrender, I say I want compassion when I really want others to feel sorry for me. Indicators that I am stuck in this place are resentment and feeling stuck. This space is a common watering hole for addicts who seek control. Other common traits are whining, complaining, and bitching about other people. 

6. Unwillingness to grieve what you cannot control blocks truth from restoring freedom. Grieving is painful. No one wants to sign up for pain. Maybe you would, if you could, know how long you have to hurt. Grieving takes as long as it takes. You want more clarity about how long it takes. The universe refuses to tell you. So you remain stuck and willfully hang on to trying to control what you cannot. The truth about this is that you have put yourself in an emotional prison. 

7. When you are stuck in unwillingness to let go, find someone else who is also stuck in their unwillingness to let go of control and look for yourself in them. Together you will find a way out. Bill W and Dr. Bob (Alcoholics Anonymous) famously told the story that once when they were under siege of craving for a drink. They decided that what they needed was to find another alcoholic and listen to their story. In doing so, they saw themselves in the other alcoholic and found the answer to their craving that satisfied their craving to drink. 

8. In the end, the Tibetan monks have it right. There are three things that matter: (1.) How well did you love; (2.) How fully did you live; (3.) How deeply did you let go? 

To that end, it resonates that the truth will set you free but most likely it will hurt before you experience release. 

Feeling Like a Fraud — No One Wants to be an Imposter 

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“All my friends thought I was a very happy human being. Because that’s how I acted- like a really happy human being. But all that pretending made me tired. If I acted the way I felt, then I doubt my friends would have really hung out with me. So the pretending wasn’t all bad. The pretending made me less lonely. But in another way, it made me more lonely because I felt like a fraud. I’ve always felt like a fake human being.” ― Benjamin Alire Saenz, Last Night I Sang to the Monster

One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. Living a fraudulent life is exhausting. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside, feeling like an imposter. Of course, this would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As Richard Rohr puts it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self.” Being who you are is healing and creates a sense of calm and empowerment within.

There is always a struggle to separate your True Self from your False Self. The True Self is who you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of the universe. It is the divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny. Whereas, the False Self is the image we put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and/or how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you. Yet, once you are connected with who you are on the inside, how you express yourself on the outside begins to reflect your True Self. It is in our False Self that we identify with the imposters of the world because when we are not our True Self, inside we feel fake. 

It has been my experience that when you are genuine, you feel and even fit better in your skin. Like the velveteen rabbit—the “real” never rubs off. 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 not measuring up. It triggers the practice of impression management. When you ground yourself in your authentic True Self, you find your true identity.

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

To accomplish this mindset, you will need to 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. The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition.

Coming to terms with our limits, embracing brokenness, and shortcomings is the recipe for cultivating humility. Without humility, it is impossible to go deep into personal brilliance. People can find personal brilliance in the presence of arrogance, but they won’t go deep enough. Embracing the human condition with humility is the key to going deep so you’ll want to enlist some help.

Managing incongruence, inconsistency and hypocritical behavior requires accountability. The strength of accountability keeps human weakness in check and cultivates humility. So, rather than impersonate sobriety or serenity, addicts are encouraged to humbly confess their shortcomings knowing that the power of accountability will call them back to a centered, congruent life. To preserve your True Self, it is necessary to practice telling on yourself.

At a 12-Step meeting, once you tell everyone your deepest dark shameful secret which is received with support and acceptance from 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. Then, if you have had weeks or years of sobriety, 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 necessary to establish congruency. Not just the confession, but what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to get re-centered and live a sober life. This must be done to find your true authentic self. 

Although being your True Self takes hard work, it is the only way to establish confidence toward building an authentic foundation for long-term recovery. When you are trying to be centered and sober, many distractions pull you away from focused living and back to your addiction.

Here are a few suggestions to help address becoming stuck in your false self and how to anchor yourself in your authentic true self.

1. Commit to loving yourself without the conditions of having to measure up to someone else’s standard. This is difficult for an addict who grew up in a family system that emphasized conditional love. Having to meet the standards of someone else will keep you stuck in your false self. You won’t know how to love and accept who you are while addressing hurtful, destructive behaviors. You will feel pressure to fake it in the presence of others who you surmise have learned to make it. Maya Angelou once said “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Practice cocooning yourself with acceptance and love even when you feel valueless. It is especially important to treat yourself as valuable and to do the next right thing even when you do not meet the standard. It is not about making it ok to act out or to fail a desired standard, rather it is about finding your significance other than from performance. It is about embracing your sense of being and truly loving that. This will bring you back to your true authentic self.

2. When you think of yourself on the outside of the bubble looking in you will need to blow a new bubble and put yourself in it – You will not be able to transform yourself from your false self to your true self without reframing your life experience regarding meeting other’s expectations. The power of reframing will help you to accept the reality of disappointing behavior while anchoring your reality to your true authentic self. There is no fraud in separating results, success, or failure from your true self. 

3. Allow yourself to grieve disappointing behavior and failed results. Circularity is a part of the grieving process—languishing/lingering/going back to the dead carcass of what used to be—is all a part of grieving. There is a time to walk away and never turn back. Yet, many entertain an approach of out of sight out of mind and fail to embrace effective grieving. It is important to grieve the loss of your false self (your addictive behavior) to move forward in the development of your true authentic self.

4. Remember the oyster: Value can be reclaimed from disappointment and irritating, devastating experiences. When a grain of sand penetrates an oyster’s shell, it irritates the oyster, making it distressed and annoyed. The oyster relieves the discomfort by coating the sand with a moist fluid. When the fluid hardens, a pearl is formed. The very process that healed the oyster creates a precious jewel of great value. Your frustration and failed experience do not need to end by remaining stuck in your false self. You can transform your false self into the pearl of being genuinely who you are by practicing telling on yourself and anchoring yourself to your authentic true self. This is the crucible experience which creates gold from failed attempts.

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.