Growth

Bitter or Better? Living in the Broken Places of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect is Never Part of the Plan

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“She’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be. But if she can make you laugh at least once, cause you to think twice, and admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She isn’t going to quote poetry or think about you every moment, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you could break. Don’t hurt her, don’t change her, and don’t expect more than she can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when she makes you happy, yell when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect people don’t exist, but there’s always one person that is perfect for you.” ― Bob Marley

When addicts come to recovery, there is always a desire to do it perfectly. On the one hand,  their ego tells them they can. “Twelve steps, twelve days, knock it down, what’s next!” I’ve heard it more than once.  On the other hand, “failure, missing the mark is so painful I don’t want to get up and try one more time” is a common lament from many.  More than one addict can testify that they have a drawer full of chips reminding them of commitments made and broken. Why try if I can never reach the mark, never measure up?  Recovery becomes like the life they have always lived. Somehow I should be able to do this perfectly and I cannot because I am woefully imperfect. 

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the average experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of major league baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these common-place experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and understand how to put imperfection in its proper perspective. No matter who you are, transforming meaningfulness from mundane moments of struggle and failure requires accepting imperfection. It is necessary to embrace the benefits of average commonplace struggles.

When you don’t measure up to what you expect, you then scale down your expectations of achievement which can be helpful or disastrous. Moving acting out behavior from your inner circle to your middle circle and denying that it is any longer acting out but just high-risk behavior is disastrous for sobriety. You just practice old destructive behaviors you did before recovery with a different label. In your attempt to be perfect, you end up accelerating more shame. No one ever beats themselves up to a better place.

However, when you fail to measure up to what you intended, it is important to adjust the way you treat yourself. Rather than criticize and judge your failed behavior, it is transformative to recognize the mistake and then focus on the next right behavior which always anchors being centered. Centered living involves grounding yourself in your values. When you blow it, either by relapsing into addictive behavior or falling short of treating yourself and others with respect and dignity, you will need to practice ignoring the inner critical voice, bring yourself back to the center, and anchor yourself to your values. You will feel hypocritical, discouraged, and dejected because of your failed behavior. You will need to embrace your imperfect behavior by positively affirming who you are. This takes practice and everyday conditioning. You will need to create healing affirmations that you engage in as frequently as you brush your teeth before they consistently transform your imperfect behavior into empowerment.  Slowly your new relationship with imperfection will emerge. Being able to bring yourself back to center is more important than never having left center in the first place. 

Imperfection contains the secret message the universe would like you to have to live life in harmony. Striving to be perfect deafens your inner ear to the message of the universe. When you persist toward perfection, you will hide inevitable shortcomings and run from the message they have for you. Managing imperfection requires that you listen to the pain of failure and shortcomings. For example, as an addict when you crave a fix from your drug of choice, after you take yourself out of harm’s way, listen to the legitimate need that must be met with healthy self-parenting. Your imperfect craving will contain a message from the universe to take care of yourself in this extremely needy moment. Perfection will try to deny the craving and thus miss the message from the universe. By embracing your imperfection you will transform the curse of craving into a blessing of personal care and intimacy. Imperfection teaches you to listen to your feelings and become present in the present moment. 

Managing imperfection means that you will need to recognize when you have handed the reins of control over to the small child within. As a child, you become emotionally stuck around the needs that did not get met and are fueled by neglect and abandonment. When that perception is triggered as an adult, the inner child seizes the moment and flees or freezes with fear. At that moment, you give power to the little boy or little girl to address an adult decision and you render your powerful wise-mind adult inoperative. The results of this interaction are dismal. Perfection denies or becomes overwhelmed with the failure. Managing imperfect moments means that you take the reins respectfully from the child and assert your adult-wise mind to address the need or situation. This, too, will require training and practice. Again, perfect is never part of the plan.

Managing imperfection requires that you cultivate the concept of Velvet Steel. This recovery skill is an art form. Most addicts are hard or harsh (steel) where they need to be gentle, and soft (velvet) where they need to be steel. The misapplication fuels addictive behavior. In striving for perfection you will miss cultivating velvet steel. Likely, you will become stoic and stern in your endeavor to live a sober life.  

Managing imperfection requires learning when to apply the strict letter of the law about your behavior and when to be gentle. Parents must learn this as they guide children through the stages of life. Rigidity around failure and imperfection is a breeding ground for shame. 

You will develop the art of living when you learn to make imperfection your teacher.  Allow your difficulties to become your learning and source for growth. Set recovery goals that challenge rather than defeat you before you begin. Be realistic. Accept imperfection and stretch yourself from there. Your imperfect feelings will help you grow in self-care and understanding toward others. 

Your choice in recovery is not whether to use affirmations. We’ve been affirming thoughts and beliefs since we were old enough to speak. The choice in recovery is what we want to affirm. Whatever thoughts you give energy to, empower you. Are you willing to release, or let go of, negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones? Will you choose to affirm imperfection and make it good? Remember, perfect is never part of the plan. 

The Rendezvous with Traumatic Relationships

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Take time to think about times you felt hurt earlier in your life in ways that resurface over and again. Traumatic relationship experiences have a way of recycling throughout the course of life. For many, trauma is like being lost in the woods and walking around in a circle. It is deja vu all over again.

It is familiar for some to consistently pick emotionally unavailable people to partner with and then wonder why they cannot connect or get their emotional needs met. This pattern becomes solidified throughout life. They marry someone who is emotionally unavailable to them. They work for a dysfunctional organization, they allow that employer to use them, thinking that if I go above and beyond then I will be appreciated. Eventually, they quit both the marriage and the job and then go find another job and partner and reenact the same dysfunctional relationship without realizing what is happening. Unresolved validation and unmet developmental needs from earlier times in life are played out in unhealthy repetitive relationships throughout life. As a therapist, I listen to people who are now in their fourth marriage relationship, all with abusive addicts who are emotionally unavailable!

Here are a few suggestions for ending this destructive relationship pattern.

#1: Drain the pool of pain by scrubbing the wound. As long as you clutch past hurtful experiences you will sully your present relationship experiences with misgivings. You must scrub the wounds of past experience and drain your pool of pain. It feels like wallowing in yesterday’s misfortunes. But, it is not. Attempting to ignore or avoid the pain will take you back to wallowing in yesterday’s mud hole. By scrubbing the wound, you embrace the pain and give back the shame that was perpetrated on you by a significant person in your life. You simply grieve the loss of protection and kindness, calling out the shameful message with the decision that you will not be dominated by the accompanying mistaken belief but instead, choose to move forward and act with self-empowerment. This experience is not a one-and-done event but a chosen lifestyle. Metaphorically, putting down the stones you throw or the gun you grasp for protection is the only way to give up the storyline that creates unhealthy relationships. You will begin to heal by establishing relational boundaries that empower healthy connections with care and love in relationships.

#2: Lean into the pain. This suggestion seems far-fetched! But, think of the Chinese handcuff. I remember as a young boy sitting in church trying to work my way through another long tedious worship service. In my pocket, I had a Chinese handcuff. I took it out and began to explore. So, I put my left and right index fingers into the ends of the handcuffs. The handcuffs were cylinder in shape and made of a straw-like material that was flexible. The more I tried to pull my fingers out the tighter the cuffs held me. A surge of panic struck and I pulled harder. But, the small cuffs would tighten further. But, then when I did the opposite and leaned my fingers into the middle of the problematic cuff, the small casing slackened and I could gently and slowly work my fingers free!

With relationship challenges, often the pulling in panic only handcuffs you further and tightens the grip of fear in your life. Running from the pain only deepens and complicates matters. Trying to think your way through only thickens the mental wool that snares you. Geniuses like Einstein or Edison when befuddled and stuck would take a break or take a nap and in surrender to the problem they discovered a solution. Leaning into the pain is facing what is real and allowing it to be, without panic. Sitting with the pain provides the eventual solution. Leaning into the problem that is gripping you will allow you to work your way free.

#3: Practice Forgiveness. Many of you have experienced painful past trauma. It was indescribable. The struggle to survive and the enduring suffering will never be forgotten. Sometimes it seems that if you heal it will mean that you will allow what happened to evaporate from the memory of those who need to be held accountable for your agony. So you believe the only way is that you must commit to reliving the awful experience daily or your suffering will be for naught.

However, you do not need to define yourself by past trauma. To give up this part of your storyline, you will need to forgive those who were responsible and those who could have intervened but did not. Without forgiveness, you will remain stuck in resentment which is a cancer that grows and will dominate your existence.

Forgive means to give and to receive. You begin with receiving forgiveness. Often people wonder what I need to forgive, it was the other person who hurt me. However, it is important that you be able to identify in principle, not in like kind, how you have hurt others like you have been hurt. The one who hurt you wanted what they wanted when they wanted it, right? Think of a time that you wanted what you wanted, when you wanted it, regardless of its impact on others. Seek forgiveness for that. It might be something as obscure as forcing your way while changing from one lane to the next on the freeway. It’s not about comparing whose selfish want is greatest but just owning your own selfishness and forgiving yourself, which means not holding it against yourself. To do this you must sit with the awareness of how your hurt impacted others. This is defined as scrubbing the wound. Being able to sit with the pain of another because of your selfish behavior is necessary to create forgiveness of self. Once you do this you make a conscious choice to not hold your selfish behavior against you.

Now, for the one who hurt you. Once forgiven, you offer the same to the one who egregiously harmed you. Forgiveness does not mean you forget what happened. Rather, it means that you will not hold it against the other person but walk in the opposite direction of resentment to the freedom of thought about the past hurt. Rather than hate, you send positive loving energy to that person. You do this so you can be free from your own emotional prison. Forgiveness is a daily action before it becomes a reality of feeling. Seldom is forgiveness a one-and-done experience in life. You practice forgiving the one who hurt you every day, as it comes up.

You don’t have to engage by making friends with the person but letting go and walking away from resentment is your responsibility. When you learn to lean into the pain and scrub the wound through forgiveness you will end your rendezvous with trauma and stop building intimate relationships with emotionally unavailable people.

Failure Friendly

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It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. —J.K. Rowling

The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as the lack of success in doing or achieving something. Really! Somehow, with so much emphasis placed upon not failing in our world, you would think they would come up with something more pronounced than that. If that’s what it is, who doesn’t fail, not once but dozens of times every day? I didn’t brush my teeth twice today, I ran two not three miles. I didn’t clean the house, wash the car, read 50 pages from the book I committed to wade through, meditate, and stop eating yogurt! Some days it seems that I don’t achieve anything that I committed to do! Does that make me a failure?

There is such emphasis upon hiding the “don’t be’s” that the things you achieve get overlooked or minimized. You did put your goals down on paper. You did run two of the three miles on your goal sheet. You did brush your teeth one time of the twice-a-day goal. You did read 10 of the 50 pages you committed to read. While there are many things you can do to adjust your focus, strategy, and effort to achieve more, you are less likely to maintain perspective without a more friendly view of the word failure.

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of Major League Baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out 1700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these commonplace experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and create a meaningful perspective from his experience of professional failure.

Here are a few things to reflect on when addressing failure in life.

1. Everyone experiences daily failure. It is one of the common threads of everyday living.

2. Make sure you underscore what you did do when you highlight what you didn’t.

3. Fail forward. Wallowing in the mud of failure only gets you more muddy and in need of a bath.

4. Take time to grieve. It’s a bummer to come up short after all that effort! Feel shitty! Embrace the bitterness, anger, disappointment, and emptiness that come with failed results. Express it fully! Philosophical reflection can come later.

5. Funnel your grief into action. Don’t act prematurely. When you embrace your feelings around failure, you will know when it’s time to get off your duff and act. Don’t allow negative self-talk to stymie your view of future destiny. Most achievements are completed amidst the roar of negative talk from the conniving inner critic that attempts to sabotage destiny. Learn to ignore the negativity within like an athlete learns to block out the hostile heckles and catcalls in a stadium.

6. Be a heart champion. Model how to go from blight to beauty. Know that failure is a part of life. Determine never to let an outcome define who you are. Instead, let your definition be determined by the vision of destiny you have within that supersedes any result.

7. Chisel out a North Star focus. Cultivate support from others around you to maintain an “eye of the tiger” pursuit of your purpose and plans of fulfilling your destiny.

8. Re-define prosperity. Rather than scaling back your vision, transcend your pursuit and go beyond concrete results that ultimately you don’t control. Embrace the unconditional confidence that no matter what you experience, you can go down and come back up.

9. Clarify what growth means toward the goal you seek to achieve. There are many definitions of growth. If you only know growth by measuring the end result, you will miss the incremental steps that are necessary to get to the end result. Carefully clarify each step needed in your journey. It will help you to enlighten what you can and cannot control.

Strength and inspiration come through the experience of failure by sharing and connecting with the human spirit of others. You will experience a genuine depth of human connection when you learn to stay in the presence of overwhelming discomfort triggered by failure. The human spirit is resilient and has the capacity to transform agony into poise and healing peace when the discomfort and heartache of failure is embraced and shared.

Ignoring the Obvious While Embracing the Improbable

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“Who so loves, Believes the impossible” — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Addicts ignore the elephant in the living room. It is obvious to everyone that dad, mom, brother, or sister is acting out in addiction. Yet, nobody confronts the issue. Everyone pretends that there will be a better day. Nobody admits that addictive behavior is running rampant. You drink the Kool-Aid of denial and project that the family is good and everything is going just great. 

Families with untreated substance addictions are not the only ones who ignore the obvious while embracing the improbable. There are families who project being very religious while ignoring that dad is a serial philanderer. There are couples who project the image of harmony and happiness in public but who privately barely speak to each other. Is it hypocritical? Sure! Yet, over time those who ignore the obvious gradually learn to believe the improbable is real. There really isn’t a dead dog in the living room!

Businesses and institutions also ignore the obvious while embracing the improbable. There is a certain type of game that is played. Once I worked as one of the ministers at a large dynamic church. It was promoted as the largest of its kind. The lead minister avowed and reported that several thousand people attended his church each Sunday. It was questioned so he asked that I organize a count of worship goers for six weeks. After the allotted time, I reported that there were 1000 fewer people attending the worship service than he boasted. He was very angry and insisted that his estimate was correct and my count was wrong. So we pretended that 1000 people were there that were not. Eventually, the infrastructure of embracing the improbable implodes and reality deflates perception like a deflated balloon. When you ignore the obvious it will eventually become devastating. 

Everyone is tempted to embrace the improbable. We don’t want to face the obvious when the reality is disappointing. 

Historically, many did not want to think of John Kennedy or Martin Luther King as philanderers but they were. Many wanted to ignore that steroids in baseball were a problem, but they were. I wanted to believe that Lance Armstrong was an unbelievable athlete who did not cheat, but he did. What is obvious, and that which is improbable, bump up against each other throughout life.  How do you sort or sift what is real in your life?

1. Don’t play games. Face what is real in your personal life. There are payoffs for people who play games. The games that I reference are not “Ha-ha” games. They are games that you keep you safe in a dysfunctional family. Every family creates rules and gives messages about what is OK and what is not. Family is the cocoon in which children learn to interact with the outside world.  When a family is unhealthy, a child will not know the difference between what is hurtful or not. The sphere of their family world is all they know. Unhealthy families become rigid so their rules and regulations become gospel and make it difficult for new information from the outside to penetrate the protective sphere of family influence. So if dad gets drunk on Fridays and screams at everyone or slaps mother because she said something he didn’t like, it is easy for a child in that environment to interpret that all families live like this and that walking on eggshells around dad, with fear and anxiety, is a normal part of everyday living. It takes time and deliberate action to demythologize your parents and the family rules that dominated you. You must first recognize how unhealthy family rules and messages impact you in a negative way. Without this deliberate action, your tendency will be to ignore the obvious and embrace the improbable. The process is unnerving and likely will trigger guilt for questioning the fundamental beliefs that your parents taught, depending upon how dysfunctional your family of origin is. If you learned that you are not to question the authority of your parents, then be prepared to struggle with guilt.  You may need the help of a therapist to detach from the guilt and the rules of your family. They are powerful.

2. Once detached, train in observing your behavior around authority figures and the culture you engage at work and other organizations. It is normal to want to please those you work for or with. When things don’t go your way, pay attention to how you respond. Notice when you become triggered and overreactive. Pay attention to what goes on emotionally underneath the surface about the issue that triggers you. If you have a patterned history of struggling with authority figures, it is a signal that you have unresolved family-of-origin issues to address. Maybe your struggle is that you tend to go along to get along. It might mean that you won’t address a principle that you believe in for fear of rejection. On the other hand, you might find yourself quibbling and irritated without knowing why. What you think is a personality conflict might be an issue of unresolved family-of-origin work with your parents. If you don’t address these issues you will repeat ignoring the obvious and embracing the improbable. You must pay attention to your behavior and the games you play as well as the rules of the games other people play. When you learn to detach from both, you will respond from a position of strength and not weakness.

3. Embracing the obvious opens the potential for the impossible. Nothing changes until it becomes real. When you identify the elephant in the living room, you can do something about it. You can separate destructive behavior from the person. You stop playing a game and identify the destructive behavior for what it is. You transform behavior that is experienced as nonproductive to being a curse and destructive into a blessing of resolution and relational connection. This is the essence of what love is about. It is not ignoring what is hurtful but it is leaning into the obvious. Seeing the obvious with mature compassion and love is the way to responsibly create a different world. Love teaches you what is beneath the surface. It helps to see what is hidden to the eye but known to the heart. When you embrace the obvious you can allow the wisdom of love to work its magic in transforming relational dynamics in family, work, and the culture at large. Breaking through denial and facing the dead dog in the living room is necessary to heal unhealthy relationships. This form of love is the dynamic that transforms the impossible within you and creates possible healthy relationships with those whom you engage. 

Nine Thoughts that Shape Recovery

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I have been in recovery from addiction for 31 years. I have been reflecting on the 9 thoughts that have shaped and governed my recovery life. I want to share them in hopes that perhaps I can offer hope and strength to those who struggle with maintaining sobriety today.

1. Attitude is your greatest stock-in-trade. Sometimes people think they have to pay an exorbitant price to work with the best-known inpatient facility or a perceived guru in order to address addiction. Sometimes this attitude wreaks of entitlement. They have the money so they feel entitled to demand the best. One time this guy came to see me and said I heard you were the best and I want to only work with the best. I responded by saying “Why do you need the best therapist, you are not the best client.” What is far more important than finding the best therapist is to bring with you the best attitude you can manifest. When I got into recovery, I did not have any money. It took some time but I created a great attitude about recovery. My wife and I decided to embrace the mantra that we would “hock our socks” and do what was necessary to be healthy and sober. We found many resources that were free including 12-step programs which offered free cassette tapes and books. I learned to look for what would help me develop and grow my sobriety. I found individuals in 12-step rooms who were serious about living a sober life. I would sit or stand in the parking lot talking to them about recovery life. When confronted by others in 12-step meetings, I did not always receive helpful feedback. I learned to latch on to what was helpful and let go of what was hurtful. It was a good attitude that helped me to keep coming back again and again. Thirty-one years and over 3500 meetings later, the number one reason that I am sober is because I learned to live with a good attitude toward growth and recovery. I have to work on it every day. The greatest investment I ever made was not for a therapist or an inpatient facility. It has been my determination to be coachable and have a good attitude. It serves me well.

2. Be hungry. Let the world be your library. What does it mean to be hungry about recovery? Literally, the physical craving for food is a motivation to satisfy the need for nourishment. It’s not different in addiction recovery. When you don’t have a white-hot intense hunger for sobriety, serenity, and recovery, you miss out on what others get. Some people think they only do recovery when they attend a 12-step meeting, do the steps, or sit in a therapist’s office. Not me. I have learned that recovery is all around me. I have greatly appreciated the different therapists who have helped me throughout my journey. Yet, if I limited my resources to identified recovery sources I would have stunted and stifled my recovery growth. Being hungry for recovery growth means that you bring this mindset to all that you are and all that you do. I have gained great insights from the imagination of children and the persistence that I have observed from people who live a hardscrabble existence. I have walked alongside very wealthy people and have learned recovery principles. I have experienced even more wisdom from the poor and homeless. I have learned spirituality from my depression, impatience, and dire failings in my life. Emotional and physical pain have been great teachers. Recently, sitting next to Sequoia trees in California helped me to keep my vision for change to extend beyond my own time and onto future generations. When you are hungry for insight and understanding, you find it all around you. Let the world be your library to stretch yourself and grow.

3. Tell on yourself. The hardest thing in recovery I have ever had to do was to get emotionally honest at a deep level and tell on myself. That meant to tell on myself about times I was insecure and unsure. It meant that I needed to learn to live with being “emotionally naked” to those who I identified as support. This is much easier to write about than live. It meant that in order for me to show up at a 12-step group, I had to be honest and lead with the last thing I wanted people to know about me and let that be the first thing I said. I have pissed people off, said things I wasn’t comfortable saying, and put up with blowback from others because of what I said. I don’t do this everywhere I go. Yet, when it comes to recovery groups, the only way I have been able to always get something from each group is for me to show up and tell on myself. This mentality has conditioned me to cultivate deeper intimacy with my wife and those I care about and who I have invited to be close. Practice telling on yourself.

4. Do the next right thing no matter what it takes. We say this all the time in 12-step work. When you screw up, make a relationship mistake, or act out, the hardest thing is to face the consequences and do the next right thing. You feel shitty about yourself and getting up out of the mud hole you created for yourself is really hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. It requires that regardless of how you feel, you have to force yourself to move in the right direction, not perfectly, but you’ve got to move! While the voices are screaming that you can’t do recovery, give up, just numb out, and get high, you have to take yourself by the nape of the neck and do the next right thing. This move is not spectacular and there is no glory in it. The war with addiction behavior is hammered out when you drag yourself from wallowing in the mud and pick up the phone, tell on yourself, and go to a meeting. You can never get away from doing the next right thing no matter what it takes.

5. As an addict, what you think is most important, seldom is. In my addiction, what I thought was so important never was. John Prine wrote this great song about Sam Stone who became a morphine addict in the VietNam war and lived out the rest of his days addicted. He wrote, “When he popped his last balloon… there was nothing to be done but trade his house that he bought on the GI-bill for a flag-draped casket on a local hero’s hill.” That’s always the result of addictive demand. There are times, even now, that I can be so damned insistent on wanting what I want when I want it. The next day it didn’t even matter. After the build-up of addictive craving and you too have popped your balloon, what you thought was so important on the other side seldom was.

6. Be your own guru. Activist Grace Lee Boggs wrote a book when she was 98 years old. In the book, she said “We are the leaders we are looking for.” This applies not only about our country’s destiny but is also true for those in recovery. I lead several groups of men who gather on weekends to work through addictive behavior. The tendency in groups of all kinds is to look to someone to be the guru. Usually, it is someone who has a way with words, is charismatic, or who just simply talks a lot. Guru is synonymous to being a teacher, master, or sage. The idea of being a teacher is great. However, it is common for group members to look to a teacher and build them up and put them on a pedestal. I find this very annoying! I can teach you and you can teach me. There is no need to pedestalize anyone. In religion, we make saints out of people. We do the same thing in recovery groups. Perhaps, out of insecurity, we put others on a pedestal and make gurus out of them. I find it detrimental to recovery growth. I suspect that this is done because we don’t want to grow ourselves and become our own guru. Recovery growth in my life has required that I become my own guru.

7. Addicts change only when the prospect of not changing is more painful than the change they are facing. This has been said by many regarding the change of behavior. It certainly has been true for me. Only when the pain of remaining stuck in old behavior—addiction, procrastination, lack of exercise, healthy eating habits, etc, became intolerable did I transform myself around these behaviors. Many talk about change. It will require that you increase the pain of hurtful behavior to an intensity that change is less painful than remaining the same. Personal growth throughout the rest of your life will demand that you make decisions around this experience of tension.

8. What is more important than sobriety is bringing yourself back to center. Sobriety is sacred. It is hard won by all of us who experience it. However, throughout the years I have learned to value the skill of bringing myself back to center to be more important. No one does sobriety perfect. In the world of sex addiction, few have ever put down the addictive process and never returned through relapse. Even among those who do, lapses into high-risk behavior is common. Bringing yourself back to center is a way of managing your humanity. You will make mistakes. You will need to cultivate the concept of velvet steel if you intend to maintain long-term sobriety. When – not if – you blow it and make a big mistake, you will need to know how to bring yourself back to center with humility and gentleness. You will need to know how to assert necessary firmness and resolution that will ground and help you to be true to your heart.

9. Be who you are – don’t try to be someone else. Musician and poet Van Morrison wrote, “Live the life you love and it will bring the blessings from above”. So many people try to be someone they are not. It is not necessary to try to live life through another’s persona. It’s an impossible way to live and extremely painful. Recovery flows and is rich when you commit to being your authentic self. You will never remain lost in your recovery when you practice being true to yourself.

How to Practice my Best When Stuck in Feeling Down on Myself

Nobody ever beat themselves up to a better place. Then why do I keep doing it? When I was a young 7th grader in junior high, I played basketball for the junior high team. I was good enough to be one of the starting five. However, every time I made a mistake, I magnified the error and would verbally beat myself up running up and down the court. Getting down on myself only contributed to an even worse result in play and eventually, I was sitting on the bench. Ultimately, beating myself up increased my discouragement and eventually, I was cut from the team. In truth, I never figured out how to change this pattern until many years later while in recovery from addiction. Yet, still I struggle with this self-denigrating behavior! What the heck?

It seems really common for people to create a bad relationship with themselves. It seems commonplace for many to get down, to denigrate and think bad of themselves. We seem prone to be hard on ourselves. An obvious observation would be that when I make a mistake I would shed a tear as if I was my own beloved child and was sad to see me do these things to myself. Yet, many of us beat ourselves up instead and live a guilt-ridden life. Someone surmised that guilt reminds me that I am not sociopathic—that at least I care when I have hurt someone else. Once guilt has served its purpose then it no longer has value and should be discarded. Easier said than done!

Often, guilt is accompanied with shame. Many agree that guilt says I made a mistake and shame says I am a mistake. Even if we agree on that, then what? Both pervade and stalk me and become my constant “friend” when I am stuck in feeling down. So the question about how do I do my best when I feel so down becomes how do I manage shame and guilt. I don’t know of anyone who does not have to address these two powerful feeling experiences who is not stuck in pathological behavior.

I have discovered that an appropriate response to guilt and shame is to stalk both powerful experiences. Like a pack of wolves that chase me through the woods, shame and guilt relentlessly pursue with negative self talk. Only when I turn around and face the wolves, negative condemnation, am I able to deflate the power of shame and guilt’s message. I then discover that the power of its message is like paper-mache which appears solid on the outside but when exposed is only hollow and illusory on the inside.

When I am feeling down and dominated with guilt and shame, there are 3 important steps to take:

1. Cultivate compassion toward yourself. When you get hooked by your own guilt and shame, you won’t be able to have compassion for others at the deepest level without knowing and practicing compassion for yourself. Take time to recognize where you feel the guilt and shame in your body. Shame and guilt can be cloaked with other feelings and can go unrecognized by those who have not practiced being mindful to their emotions or who are disconnected from their body.

Cultivating self-love will require that you recognize the negative message and the original voice who spoke this message to you. This message may have been spoken to you or you may have learned it by the way you were treated. To cultivate compassion, it will be important to keep the negative message away from your sense of self. This will require that you scrub the wound of the shameful message that you have carried throughout your life from your family of origin and gets triggered by present behavior. You do this by grieving the message given to you by a primary caregiver (parents) and practice giving it back to them. Seldom is this one and done, rather an ongoing practice of message recognition and giving back the message and embracing your own self empowerment and self compassion. Most people need to practice “giving back” these hurtful messages about self to the original source throughout their entire life.

2. When you have carried out a shameful behavior, direct the shame and guilt to the behavior and keep it away from your sense of self. It is important to recognize that the behavior is an aberration to who you are—not who you are. When you allow yourself to believe that what you did is who you are, you smear the shameful message all over your sense of self. This always scars and mars your view of yourself.

When you separate yourself from hurtful behavior that you did, you are able to transform the energy of shame about the behavior into one of compassion to the one you hurt because you have rooted your belief about yourself with self-care and compassion.

3. Practice ignoring negative self-talk by acting on positive belief about yourself. To believe means to act. When you are stuck feeling down about yourself, it will be difficult to act on positive belief. This will require conscious exercise and practice. Like building muscle mass through exercise, when you practice positive belief about yourself, particularly when you feel down, you will build the power of positive belief through acting on what you deeply believe about who you are. You will need to write down your positive beliefs and regularly bathe yourself in them. This is a life-long skill set that when practiced becomes a beautiful art form that leads to personal transformation.

So, when you feel the despair of being down on yourself, overcome being harsh and beating yourself up by bringing yourself back to being gentle and not beating yourself up. I call this the practice of Velvet Steel which is a life-long experience of transforming guilt and shame into being kind and compassionate to yourself. Don’t ever forget, no one ever beat themselves up to a better place.

The Addictive Matrix of Entrepreneurship

We live in a culture that encourages having more not less. Inflation alone demands that you earn more tomorrow than you made today, just to keep up with yesterday. Economic homeostasis is an illusion. Entrepreneurship is a concept of becoming free from hand-to-mouth living. It eclipses the mentality of merely being able to bring home the bacon to that of owning the whole store. It transcends owning one store to networking all the stores that exist so you can access every imaginable type of bacon that exists in the world anytime you want.

However, it’s a matrix that has constraints. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is powerful. Beginning with nothing and creating something can become addictive. It is certainly exciting, exhilarating and generates a dopamine rush. Listening to stories of entrepreneurs who have gone from rags to riches and have provided value to so many is inspirational.

Like so many aspects of living, the creative thought of entrepreneurship must be guided and governed. Without boundary, entrepreneurs become addicted to the disease of more. They get caught in the rubric of doing more to keep from being less. Here are a few considerations to help guide and govern your entrepreneurial thoughts and behavior.

1. Ownership is an illusion. Everyone wants to be an owner. The amenities of ownership are many. Ownership is a paradox that creates a challenging hook for both addicts and entrepreneurs. In order to own you must learn the art of surrender. The very thing you grasped and sacrificed for must be let go! This paradox applies to an entrepreneur with respect to achievement and possessions as well as addicts regarding sobriety. When the vice grip of pressure closes in while you stretch and strain to make something new a reality, the last thing you want to do is let go! How crazy is this?

Every day a recovering addict must start all over by surrendering the achievement of yesterday to the possibilities of beginning a new day with all of its opportunities and potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurship is the same. Possessions are an illusion. In truth, no one really owns anything. Each person rents space on this earth and eventually, you must give your space back to the life force in the universe. Your past accomplishments must be surrendered to the present moment. This view is not meant to minimize your accomplishment, it just means you cannot possess yesterday.

There is a parallel matrix that aligns addictive behavior and entrepreneurship. The more success you enjoy at one level the more you want at the next. Your perspective is no different than when you had less. It’s the nature of the disease of more. It creates a hole in your soul and you become like the little boy who can’t get enough sugar. It’s important to remember ownership is an illusion.

2. Practice the secret that more is less and less is more. Let your world come to you. Success and sobriety need not be a Brazil nut that requires a nutcracker to open. There is a phenomena that happens when you push for more and more. You never get enough! You become enslaved by an incessant push for success. Jaded by the disease of more, you never get enough of what you really don’t want.
When you let go of the results you allow success and serenity to come to you. It’s not that the results do not matter. It’s just that you free yourself from the illusion that you control outcomes. You can influence results. You can do all that you know to create a positive effect. Then you let go of the outcome with the unconditional confidence that whatever the result it does not define you and you will manage whatever happens. You get free from the bark of shame that screams that you are not enough! As in the lyrics crooned by Janis Joplin, “Freedom becomes another way to say you got nothing left to lose”. It’s the journey of the common average daily experience that creates fulfillment and happiness. If you do not embrace this understanding, then when you achieve the spectacular it will not be enough or fulfilling. Your corner of freedom is how you choose to think about your accomplishments and acquired possessions. No one can take this away from you. Letting life come to you is a Zen mentality necessary to experiencing value in the ordinary, average spaces of life. This is a key matrix position to addiction recovery and entrepreneurship.

3. Failure is a necessary ingredient in the matrix of recovery from addiction and the entrepreneur profession. If you cannot control the results then at some point you will be disappointed with the results of a given effort. It is as certain as the sun coming up the next day! There are many cliches—“Failure is never final”; “Fail forward” etc. They are all meaningful. For sure, to establish longevity as a recovering addict or inveterate entrepreneur you must manage failure everyday. Wayne Dyer used to say “there is no failure, you just produce results” What you do with the results you produce is what matters. You must be able to make meaningfulness from disappointment and discouraging results. It requires the power of reframing your experience to life. It is not about denying or ignoring shortfalls. It is not about lowering expectations so you can pretend you did not fail. It simply means that you become the person that allows yourself to be a mistake-making person and that you will sort and sift meaningful wisdom from every failed endeavor. In this way, you make every failure a source of wisdom that you build upon each day of your life. You learn to not minimize or rationalize excuses for failures and shortcomings. You simply face the reality of temporary defeats, losses, and failures. You glean understanding and wisdom from every mistake. You become more sage and astute to the experience of life. Addicts, with long-term sobriety, and long-established entrepreneurs live with the unshakable awareness that failure is an essential part in the matrix of long-term fulfillment and ultimate destiny of success.

A Five Tool Relapse Recovery Plan: Tool #1

In baseball, a 5-tool player is one who excels in hitting, fielding, speed, hitting for power, and average. There are not many major league players who demonstrate all these skills during any given season. In 2022, Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals was such a player. It is even more rare for a player to demonstrate these skills throughout a long career. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Barry Bonds are all iconic players who demonstrated these five tools throughout their careers. 

Long-term recovery from any destructive behavior requires a commitment to change and new behaviors must be incorporated to replace old destructive conduct. There are five tools necessary to achieve long-term sobriety in addiction recovery. Today, I will discuss one of the tools and follow up with subsequent blogs to cover the other four.

Failure is a reality in almost all aspects of life. Everyone desires to relate to short-term accomplishment and success. But long-term achievement requires more, including the ability to manage failure. People highlight spectacular victory but longevity teaches how to handle human shortcomings. 

It is a common response to lower your expectations when encountered with failure. Sometimes it is helpful like when you attempt to achieve unrealistic expectations. However, in many cases lowering expectations is an attempt to soothe yourself from the sting of failure. Addicts tend to scale down expectations for sobriety after they announce their successes in a 12-step meeting but then slip into old destructive patterns of behavior. It is easier to lower expectations than to learn from the disappointment of failed behavior. 

Relapse vs lapse are often confusing terms. Relapse behavior for an addict is a reconstitution of old destructive patterns in behavior that engages acting out with a drug of choice. Lapse behavior includes indications of failure in attitude and action around addiction management. It involves behaviors that are short of addictive acting out but engage high-risk patterns of thoughts and behaviors that inevitably do lead to actions of relapse. 

There are very few addicts who do not relapse after engaging recovery, no matter the program. All addicts and everyone else fail with lapse behavior. This is simply a human element that touches everybody. 

Addicts must learn how to extract the fruit of meaningful lessons and then throw away the rind of failed experiences. This treatment of failed behavior is absolutely critical to anyone who has successfully created long-term sobriety. 

Tool #1 is about how to address times when you fail and stumble into old destructive patterns of addictive behavior. You learn what to do when you determine to quit destructive conduct but after your best efforts find yourself back to where you started. You learn how to manage times when you feel defeated with a strong urge to give up. Here are a few considerations to think about:

Tool #1: Engage in a Relapse Litmus Test 

Geoff Hewitt wrote a poem about a sailor who was lost at sea and somehow made his way to the shore. Exhausted he fell asleep on the shore only to have the tide come in and sweep him back to sea. This is the story of many addicts in recovery. Managing recovery failure embraces the following components that comprise tool #1.

(a) A beginner’s attitude: The challenge of showing up every day hungry for one thing that will keep you sober and growing. This becomes more difficult the longer you are sober. The tendency is to lose urgency and back off from cultivating personal growth. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your beginner’s attitude toward recovery? Will you take the initiative to examine where you got off track from your recovery program? Are you willing to do what you need to do to get back to where you need to be? These are the questions required about the humility needed to engage a beginner’s attitude. 

(b) Honesty: Recovery requires honesty. Deep emotional honesty is difficult to achieve. Few people achieve this level of honesty. Face the questions: Where am I dishonest with myself? Who have I been dishonest with? Am I willing to make amends and restitution for my dishonesty? Who will I be willing to be accountable to? These are important litmus test questions to guide you through failure. 

(c) A willingness to do something different: Albert Einstein’s famous quote “you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it”. Twelve-step communities like to croon “Insanity is doing the same thing over and again, expecting different results”. Ponder what it is that you would be willing to do differently to accomplish the level of sobriety you desire. When you don’t know what to do, brainstorm with your 12-step community for solutions that make sense. Are you willing to go to any length? What would you do differently in the next 24 hours/week/month? 

(d) Do whatever it takes to stop the slide of acting out: When skiing on a steep slope and you fall and uncontrollably cascade down the mountain, you do whatever it takes regardless of how it looks to get stopped! Even if you look like the abominable snowman coming down the mountain, one thing matters and that is to stop the fall. It takes the same urgency and burning desire to stop the slide toward addictive behavior. There must be a burning desire within your heart. Although determination alone will never keep you sober, you cannot recover without it.