letting go

The Unencumbered Being

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“So often we make a commitment to change our ways, but stall in the face of old reflexes as new situations arise.” — Mark Nepo

Living in sobriety requires a willingness to make adjustments. We tend to cling to old patterns of living. We are creatures of habit. There is comfort in doing things the same way we have always done them. It’s true for us all. Yet, growth and transition create the need for change. Adaptability is an overlooked quality in recovery. There are common threads that connect all of us in recovery. When we uncover the common threads there is relief and acceptance among those who know addiction. There is safety in routine and predictability that is necessary to create calm from a life of chaos. 

Leaving the addictive life behind demands great courage and humility. For many of us, it took many steps forward and backward before we finally turned the page to a new life totally separate from the old ways of addiction. Most of us recall the loneliness, awkwardness, and struggle experienced during the course of making these changes. It took a great deal of effort to leave old digs, watering holes, and other experiences in addictive behavior. Many of us wrestled with euphoric recall and endured painful user dreams about past moments of addiction. The culture of addiction felt like a warm hug, it was so familiar. 

Reminiscing the first time you ever stepped across the threshold of a 12-step meeting was so scary and unraveling . . .  Who will I see that knows me? What will I have to say? Can’t wait just to get back to the safety of my car after the meeting was over.  It took a long time before a 12-step room became a safe place. Even longer to feel like you belonged.  There were painful disclosures and humble admission of character flaws. Learning to let go was and is a painful struggle. Over time, the 12-step meeting became a refuge, a place to become emotionally naked with people you once dreaded to face. 

In time the recovery culture replaced the neighborhood of addiction. Some old acting-out friends disappeared while other relationships became redefined. Gradually, recovery behavior, relationships, and lifestyle replaced the addictive culture so that today the old life of addiction would be as awkwardly experienced as once was the new life in recovery. Finally, the evolution of recovery had transpired!

Once settled and established, life has a way of underscoring impermanence. Back in the day, Bob Dylan was correct when he wrote and sang “The Times They Are  Changin”.  In community, relationships change. People move or die. Family configurations require adjustment. An environment that was once predictable experiences the threat of change. Uncertainty is part of the flow of life. The passage of life creates the need for adjustment. We have to practice letting go in new ways about relationship dynamics we mistakenly thought were permanent. 

This part of recovery life is difficult. There is resistance to ongoing adjustments and adaptations during life transition. Once you have stretched and strained from the life of an addict and settled in recovery, now considering continual life adjustments can feel overwhelming and too much to ask of yourself.  The late M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled, likened life journey to the metaphor of traveling through the desert. Many come to the first oasis in the desert and settle there, deciding to camp for the rest of life and never completing the journey through the desert. The oasis is comfortable, so why continue? 

Recovery life beckons to press on toward continued growth with its accompanying need for adjustment and willingness to embrace change. The temptation is to hover around old recovery times and digs that can no longer be sustained because of the impermanence of life. Essentially, nothing remains the same. There is a need to change and move forward. However, change generates fear and anxiety. 

Typically, when facing the need for change we want to hold on to what has always been. When there is fear of the unknown, we grip tightly to what we know and have experienced, even if it no longer applies to times we live and might be hurtful. In a parable in the New Testament, Jesus referred to the need for change as being like putting old wine into new wineskins. This metaphor for change emphasizes the idea that the new cloth had not yet shrunk so using a new cloth to patch older clothing would result in a tear as it began to shrink. Similarly, old wineskins had been “stretched to the limit” or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again therefore risked bursting them. There comes a time for change when what used to be true and applicable needs to be adjusted. When we refuse to adjust we become inflexible and more likely to tear or break.  Transitions in life though hard suggest that it is time to move on to new truths, relationships, and understandings about life. Yet we tend to clutch and hold on to what we know when we are fearful ofchanges that usher us into the unknown. 

Growth in recovery requires that you let go of preconceptions and expectations that have accumulated from past relationships and experiences. Recovery is a life of continual recreating yourself in spirit. Some have said that life in recovery is about becoming an unencumbered being. It demands that you release and let die the mentality of the past. Do you know the mentality that you need to let die within you? Is it the drive that you have always lived for? Is it your need to control things, people, possessions, power, position, environments, or money?  Sobriety brings us to spaces in our lives where we need to change our entire way of life. Dropping the way we have done life will mean that you do this one drop at a time. The drastic changes that occur at the inception of recovery underscore the way we are to live our lives moving forward… whether beginner or old-timer.  Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. Living forward and looking backward are both difficult. Understanding can be sleuthed through past reflection but will require rigorous openness and honesty. Fear can be an obstacle to living forward. Letting go of what we know and embracing the unknown is a faith proposition that scares the hell out of most of us. Yet, for those who press forward, what emerges is the peace of becoming an unencumbered being. 

When You Know to Let Go But You Can’t

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If you are an addict you know to let go of your drug of choice but you can’t. The junkie worm tells you just one more time! When you are an entrepreneur giving birth to your dream service or product, there comes a time when you know you need to let go of the reins. You need to empower others so that you can do what only you can do for this business, but you don’t let go. You think others won’t do it the way you do it. 

Workaholics live life with their knickers twisted way too tight. They get stuck doing more to keep from being less. Mothers struggle to let go of the care of their children to others fearing they will not do it as effectively or that the needed bonding will be incomplete or broken. They know to let go but they can’t. 

Adult children enmeshed with parents who are no longer able to care for themselves, know to reach out for assisted living but don’t because they cannot handle the perceived hurt and painful harm the move would create. So they remain stuck, trying to care for them alone, unable to let them go to a professional care that is better.

Kids go away to college and create empty nests at home while parents struggle and often don’t let go of the past but hang on to yesterday’s experiences.

Families faced with the tragedy of a loved one who suffered irreparable harm from an accident or physical illness know to let go and turn off the ventilator but they can’t.

Seniors faced with retirement knowing it’s time to turn the page and shut it down, but cannot. Partners of addicts facing betrayal and who know the relationship is over and need to pull the plug but they can’t.

Everyday life presents a menagerie of possibilities that insist on choices to let go. But, what do you do when you cannot?

Here is a list of tools to help you let go of what you cannot control:

1. Look at yourself in the mirror to face reality. The mirror may be that of another trusted friend who clearly sees what you do not want to look at or are simply blind to. Sometimes you need several mirrors. As the old saying applies, if eight friends tell you that you have a tail, at least look at your posterior in the mirror!

2. First, face the result that you would least like to experience, then return to the present reality. In your mind’s eye, lean into the dreaded result that you fear. Sit with this possibility. See yourself accepting and experiencing the loss, the disappointment, and possible failed results. Practice knowing that whatever happens, your better self can face it with the strength of the universe. Then return to the here and now with the presence of calm in face of uncertainty. 

3. Surrendering control is a daily practice that cultivates acceptance. Letting go is seldom a one-and-done life experience. Surrender requires ongoing conditioning. When the stakes are high, surrender must be a lifestyle. Most people who lose precious relationships and positions must think in terms of days or months or even years to let go of what they cannot control. For addicts, it’s a lifetime practice of letting go of their drug of choice.

4. Letting go requires a disciplined action step without hovering around that which no longer is. A National Geographic nature show presented a mother wolf who died surrounded by it’s pups in the winter. The pups continued to hover around the carcass hoping to get the sustenance of milk from the dead mother. Finally, the pups gave up and left as the moderator declared they will never come back again. The hovering was over. For you to let go, it will require eliminating the aspect of hovering. You will have to act and forge ahead, leaving behind what no longer is real. 

5. Letting go will require a new declaration of reality with accountability. Once you recognize what you cannot control and must let go, you must declare your commitment to surrender to your community of support. You might be wanting to let go of excess weight, a bad habit, old digs, or a difficult relationship, but, it will help you to declare your intentions and practice accountability with others who believe in you and who will not shade your actions but inspire your follow through.

6. “Yesterday ended last night”— This is a healthy mantra to adopt around letting go of what you can’t. Perfection is never part of the plan for surrender. Some days and situations are more difficult to let go than others. There are days that are a battle and you just don’t. But, each morning is a new day with new opportunities to surrender and experience acceptance. Practice living in 24-hour tight compartments. Release, surrender, let go, and experience serenity. Each day of conditioning provides the necessary acceptance that enables you to let go of what you can’t. 

Yesterday’s Guilt

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“Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt” —Plautus

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night swimming in yesterday’s guilt. Things that I have done that hurt others years ago and have forgotten. Now, I remember them as if I had done them the day before. I tell myself that I have already made amends to them for the destructive behavior but guilt lingers. Sometimes it was something I did that I never told anyone about. I am the only one who knows. Recovery and activity over the years buried the behavior way down deep and now it somehow has worked its way to the surface of memory, and I ponder what to do with it at 3 am! Do you ever have bouts with yesterday’s guilt?

Guilt is not a pleasant experience. It’s the hound dog that never loses its scent and always relentlessly pursues.  There are overlays of guilt. You wake up each morning with the desire to do right. Yet, before noon you have already acted out with an addictive substance or process. Your heart descends from your chest to your stomach. There is a bitter taste of failure and guilt that seems to permeate every cell in your body. There is an overwhelming desire to be someone else, somewhere else. You feel sad, lonely, desperate, and guilty.

Guilt is a feeling experience that dominates most addicts. Even in recovery, guilt becomes a nemesis that is difficult to shake. Not only do addicts feel guilt about the destructive things they have done, but also the good things they never completed. Lying in bed replaying the things you did that were so hurtful. Like a nice warm glass of regret, depression, and self-loathing, guilt powerfully dominates the present with past memories of hurtful behavior. 

How do you manage guilt when you are committed to a life in recovery? Yesterday you stumbled. Maybe you did worse and fell off the edge of the cliff. You got drunk and killed someone driving. You had a sexual affair with your brother’s partner. You molested a child. You broke your partner’s heart with addictive behavior that created unbelievable pain for people you really love. How do you deal with the guilt that dogs you every waking moment?

1. What happened yesterday belongs to yesterday. There is an old saying in recovery that “Yesterday ended last night.” This is true. Guilt is caused by too much past, and not enough present. Wallowing in the mud and memory of past destructive behavior will never help you live free and clean in the present moment. Every day is a new day. It takes discipline to wipe the slate clean and live in the here and now and not be dominated by yesterday’s failure.

2. Guilt never rectifies past behavior. Guilt serves to remind you that you did something that hurt you or others. Sociopaths often don’t feel guilt when they hurt others. You do. Let guilt do its work and then discard it. Upon becoming aware that your behavior was hurtful to another, recognize that guilt is no longer useful to you. Feel it and let go. This will take daily discipline. Each day guilt will visit you. Practice forgiving yourself which means that you choose to not hold past behaviors against yourself and are committed to walking in the opposite direction from destructive behavior. Recognize what you are doing to rectify hurtful behavior with healing action and then dismiss guilt by taking action that demonstrates guilt-free living. Practice letting go of guilt moment by moment. 

3. Make amends. The 8th and 9th steps of the 12-Step program suggest that you make a list of the people you have harmed and make amends to them. These two steps pave the way to clarify and release guilt. Amends must be a daily practice. We hurt each other continually both intentionally and unintentionally. Amends create flexibility in relationships. It is unnecessary to defend your intentions, simply own the reality that your behavior hurt someone, and make it right with a simple apology. In this way, you eliminate the environment that breeds guilt. 

4. Learn to love your enemy. People tend to alienate unwanted feelings because they are uncomfortable. Guilt is one of those feelings. Radically, when you embrace guilt and love it for its worth, it will help you become more sensitive to ways in which you hurt others and the environment you live in. While it is not meant that you brood with guilt, it is helpful to listen to the message that guilt is sending and take positive action toward resolution. Proper management of guilt produces compassion for self and others. Guilt feels like an enemy to the soul. However, learning to love your enemy (guilt) will cultivate deeper appreciation and love for yourself and others. 

Guilt can be redemptive and can trigger love. Hating yourself and the feeling of guilt within intensifies the possibility of unwanted behavior. The power of self-love builds bridges to the destiny of future healing and positive actions.

People, Possessions, and the Pursuit of Perspective

“We are less than a speck in the vast universe and beyond, and yet an unrepeatable miracle in the universe–If you cannot connect to this reality you will live a disillusioned life.”— KW

Once I toured a home owned by a friend that was massive. It had several thousand square feet of almost anything you could imagine. As the owner gave me his personal tour, we came to a large bedroom that was in a remote area of the house. I said to him “I bet you have never been in this room before.” He said “You’re right”. He essentially spent his time in three rooms: his massive master bedroom, his bathroom, and the kitchen where his chef made his food.

There is just so much space you can occupy as a human being. Even when you want a large footprint, you cannot be everywhere at once. It has been my experience that the older you get, your world begins to shrink and you need less space. You stop wanting to manage the demands of upkeep. The idea of living in multiple homes becomes a hassle. It is no longer peaceful but triggers inner discord and disharmony. So you downsize–or maybe the better description would be right size.

Possessions and ownership are interesting concepts about life. We think we own the land that we took from Native Americans. We think we have proprietary rights to property and own the possessions we have. Technically and legally we do in the here and now. Yet, in reality, we don’t own anything. Someday, sooner or later, we will give it all back. Some entity will take over assets, property, investments, and positions of power that you once thought were yours. You and I will fade into the annals of time, never to be remembered. Some day the land our forefathers fought for will be occupied by other people. It could be a new generation of Native Americans who retake possession of our land! Possessions are transitory. Someday the Grim Reaper will unceremoniously call your name and announce you are done on this earth. Your body will become the vegetative fungus that feeds the plant life and your spirit will be a part of the uncertainty of afterlife. In the end, you will not own anything.

Here are some observations that recovery living offers about possessions:

1. Relinquish, release, and refocus: Letting go of the treasures of life is its own treasury. The dearest things in life cannot be owned, but only shared. You might own your car, your vacation property, and your electronic devices. Yet, you cannot own the love or the energy of life that flows through your heart and makes life meaningful. Relinquish your grip on making things “mine” and the secret desire to get what others have. Release your clasp to fame and fortune that will fade and rust. Refocus and make good use of the possessions you have. Prioritize giving yourself as a benefit for the next generation.

2. The here and now is all you have: Gurus and philosophers have reflected for centuries on the importance of the present moment. Current guru Eckhart Tolle emphasizes this in his best-selling book, The Power of Now. The capacity to reflect upon the past and to plan for the future is unique to our species. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “Life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. While true, all we can be is in the here and now. Storing possessions for future pleasure or living in the memory of past glories only creates an illusion of detachment from the present moment.

3. Connecting to everyday experiences in life transforms your perspective about your possessions. To live relentlessly in the small everyday experiences creates great strength. It won’t be all of your possessions that inspire but the everyday acts of love that create meaningfulness in life. Mother Teresa framed everyday acts of love in this way, “Sometimes you think that what you are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Possessions shrink in importance in the presence of practicing acts of love. The changes in your life that you aspire will not be manifested by prioritizing your possessions. They will become visible in obscure places where you practice acts of kindness. They will likely become transformative and evidenced in the generations that follow. Like an old Native American reflection, “You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers, so that they will respect the land. Tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.” The power of perspective about things we possess come from reflections about the past. Future aspirations toward love and peace germinate from the common experiences of everyday living.

Nostalgic Blues

Snowfields blanket the landscape for miles and miles
Quiet Solitude tugs at memories burned deep within
Spring seeds planted
fruit ripens in the blink of an eye
Heads shake with disbelief how things used to be
Protests spontaneous-
Unrest and violence with no relief
A rich man’s war drew rebellion
Returned soldiers chided and booed
The Establishment triggered revolution
We gave it the finger
Took over buildings
Smoked dope and got high
Dylan crooned “times are a changin’-
They did until they didn’t
greed came back like an old familiar friend
We took back the finger
Stuff became God again
Blues and rock
Jazz and Motown
Country and disco, too
Soothed the pain of reality
History made, booked, and shelved
Did it matter?
Kennedy, Malcom, and Martin
Heroes wasted?
Religion tried to steal reality
With end times prophecy
And a promise of prosperity
But greed took over the dance floor
halves had more and have-nots less
Hell, not heaven became actuality
Promised “could’a-beens” thumbed through the Rolodex of time-
So close, yet so far away!
Where was I? Where were you?
So it goes with nostalgic blues.
-KW-

As you can tell I grew up in the ’60’s. Many of you read about what some of us lived. Long hair, commune living, a lot of pot and acid, Volkswagen buses tattooed with bumper stickers, and hitchhiking to nowhere highlighted an era of time that triggers nostalgia for those who lived through this epic era time. Oh yeah, don’t forget Steppenwolf, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Stones, and Judas Priest. Reminiscing the 60’s would be incomplete without including these hard rock bands.

Most living Americans have not experienced the cultural 60’s. The majority of those who have are now dead. Those among the living who have are often triggered by nostalgic memories. How could you not? It was such an intense time in America.

That said, every other era in American history has been equally intense, too. The speed of change in today’s era is unprecedented. There were far fewer genres of music in the 60’s than there are now in 2020’s. Television has dramatically changed. The list of change is endless. It’s easy to get caught in a time capsule.
People say kids today are not what they used to be. Of course, they are not because today’s kids were not born back then. Some say they would hate to have to raise kids in today’s world. They said that about kids back when I was growing up!

Nostalgia triggers reflection and yearning for what used to be but no longer is. It can be fun! Throwback experiences bring back yesterday once more.
Nostalgia is a universal experience. Some people get stuck in yesterday, seeking an illusive security that really never existed. Others attempt to seal tight the past and never explore its meaningfulness out of a fear of further pain. Kierkegaard, the existentialist wrote that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backwards”. He, no doubt, was nostalgic. The question is how to look back, gain necessary insight and move forward without getting stuck in yesterday. Here are a few considerations:

1. Shape your identity with inside values separate from outside influence. Everyone is influenced by outside social behaviors. Entrepreneurs are experts with understanding modernity and social trends that impact what we buy, where we go, and why we behave in certain ways. That said, personal values require introspection about a compendium of life experience. Within this individual anthology, each person is responsible to create heartfelt beliefs fueled with conviction to guide and shape what matters to you in the world around you. It’s easy to connect to what charismatic friends think and do. Hashtag jingoes and witticisms are energetic and influence how you choose to engage the world. Motivated by emotional response, it is tempting to embrace and declare resolute truth without digging deep within your own brilliance to clarify symbol and substance to navigate through social pressure. Groupthink often blunts personal creativity and hampers individual responsibility. It has always been easier to go along to get along for addicts. Dysfunctional families subtly adopt the mentality of ignoring the dead dog in the middle of the room. Dysfunction in families emasculates and indirectly shapes family members to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. Individuation is necessary to the formation of identity. It is common to adopt other people’s dogma for living without going deep within in order to know what it means to be true to your own heart. We learn to do this through others role-modeling this process, thus the value of a mentor, sponsor, and parent. Nostalgia beckons that we go back to how things used to be. Sometimes this is good. Other times nostalgia proves shallow and ineffective to current times. Ultimately you are the leader you are looking for. There are no gurus. You are it for you!

2. Nostalgia signals a need for further grief work. Life is a constant flux. In the 70’s Karen Carpenter sang ‘Lookin’ back on how it was in years gone by and the good times that I had, makes today seem rather sad—so much has changed”. There is a certain elusive quality with nostalgic memories. It never really was what you make up yesterday used to be. There are fond memories of days when things were more simple. Electronic technology has eclipsed former times that relied upon manual operations. Do you really want to go back to those days when you balance the pros and cons with the here and now? Even if you do, you can’t! While you can sing about yesterday once more— it’s over, never to be repeated again. Nostalgia signals the need for grief work. Letting go of what used to be is unappealing. Nostalgia is a feeling experience that reminds us that we must let go of what we cannot control, the passing of yesterday. Grieving is a life-long experience that most dread and avoid. However, when you lean into nostalgia, embrace its purpose to grieve the loss of what used to be, it opens the door to wonders that exist in the here and now! It does not eliminate the pain that comes with the loss, but, it does ignite the hope of current possibility.

3. Make it a practice to give up the storyline. Nostalgic memories carry a storyline. Trauma fuels nostalgic memories that house mistaken beliefs about self and the world around you. I have listened to many people share nostalgic experiences that unfold hurtful messages. I hear talk about being on the outside of the bubble looking in! Some lament that they never measured up! Other nostalgic experiences trigger thoughts that if you know what I know about me, you would reject me too! They are all inaccurate speculations. When you believe you are on the outside of the bubble looking in, just create a new bubble with you in the center! If others get to know your heart as you do they would be drawn closer to you, not further away. Create your own measure stick that begins with you being enough! Addressing nostalgia means that you will need to let go of the storyline that emasculates and minimizes your sense of self. Enjoy past memories that trigger awareness of fun experiences with people you enjoyed. Allow sadness or painful awareness to be present about hard times experienced. Then let go of the experience, good or bad and create a new storyline that champions personal empowerment and belief that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe destined to transcend yesterday into something much more in the here and now.

Trapped in Negative Thinking

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Addicts are plagued with stinking thinking. They are not the only ones. Addicts learn to stop acting out with their drug of choice. However, many who have put a cork in the bottle are still badgered with negative beliefs that sabotage serenity.  

Addicts wallow in past memories, wishing that things were different. In recovery, many “future trip”, focus on how things will be when sobriety and stability is achieved. Everybody grapples with staying in the present moment, but this is difficult when you don’t like where you are. Mistaken beliefs about self and the world flourish when addicts get stuck focusing on the past or future. 

Most addicts say they just want to be happy. However, happiness depends upon positive conditions. Yet, this cannot always be controlled. In the life of an addict, the results of addictive behavior have a life of their own. Trust is broken and lives have been destroyed. Often, once the havoc is wreaked, there is no going back to fix things. Relationships are devastated regardless of achieved sobriety. Loved ones have had enough! 

People who are not addicted cannot control the conditions for happiness either. For example, loved ones die unexpectedly. Tragedy and heartache happen outside of your control, too! The chase for happiness becomes an illusion because you cannot govern all of the outside factors that contribute to happiness. Your efforts to create happiness are fragile at best. Negative thinking is overcome by seeking inner peace rather than happiness. Inner peace is controlled from within.

Struggle and adversity leave an addict feeling empty and without happiness. It is possible to create inner peace in the presence of unhappiness. Addicts can transform limitation, failed recovery, broken families, and relapse into their greatest teacher. This stabilizes long-term sobriety. They transform emptiness into serenity with perspective and stability.  

Last year, I spent time with friends in their mountain home. We visited someone who modeled peace. He was a campground host and recovering alcoholic. He spoke about past losses and hurt, yet now exuded with enthusiasm, joy, and peace. During a tour of the campground, he underscored how appreciative he was to have such stunning views of the mountains that were nearby. He was excited to show us his small camping trailer. At the end of the tour, he declared that he was the luckiest man alive and that he was living the life he had always hoped. 

Upon reflection, he seemed to radiate an inner peace that was opposite of the negative thinking that dominated his addictive behavior earlier in his life. He talked about being present in the moment with his thoughts which brought him peace. He learned to block out the negative thoughts from the past and anchored his thoughts to the present moment. As I listened to him share, I thought of the many people who had so much more in personal possessions but who were stuck in negative thinking about needing more to keep from being less. When you discipline yourself to be in the present moment, negative thinking is countered with inner peace.

When you lose a loved one or must face your own demise, it is impossible to be happy about the misfortune. But, you can be at peace as long as you have released grasping for things and conditions you cannot control. In recovery, maybe you won’t be able to be with the family you thought would be there for you, but you can have peace. You may face a dramatic change and limitation in your life because of illness or financial restraints. Economic reversals and poor health will never trigger happiness. Yet, peace can be attained within when you let go of negative beliefs by simply embracing the here and now.

Peace comes in the present moment, not the past or future. Anxiety and worry accelerate when you fret about what might happen in the future or lament about a past action. Addicts tell themselves that bad things happen because they deserve it. They create movies in their head that reinforce destructive experiences from the past. They tell themselves they don’t have what it takes to live a sober, serene, and successful life. Their negative thinking sabotages good results in their life and prevents them from being present in the here and now. They become their negative thoughts. This contributes to relapse behavior and impairs the possibility of peace in the present moment. Addicts get stuck and are unable to separate themselves from the negative voice in their heads. 

You stop negative thoughts by learning to sit in life experience as it is whether pleasant or unpleasant. In recovery, you learn to connect with yourself without judgment and without clinging to the past or grasping for the future. You must learn to accept what is, right now. Your sense of self is different from your life situation. When you learn to be friendly with the present moment, you begin to make peace rather than embrace negative thoughts that treat the present moment as an enemy. In 12-step groups, addicts learn to separate their sense of self from their negative thoughts. When this happens an addict can embrace the present moment. They create inner peace and discover the brilliance of who they really are. The trap of negative thinking is resolved by practicing being present in the here and now.

A Five Tool Relapse Recovery Plan: Tool #2

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”. E.M. Forster

Addiction hurts but it is a familiar pain! It wraps around the life of an addict like a warm blanket. Peeling away the layers of destructive behavior is a painful process and can be messy. Stopping any form of destructive behavior requires transformation. It is a painstaking action that must be addressed every day.  

When you ask people why they do destructive behaviors, which they know don’t work, they become stubborn and strong-willed in their explanations. By the time they finish telling you why, you can see they have a vice grip on behaviors that sabotage sobriety and give them what they really don’t want. They gaslight themselves that what hurts isn’t all that bad! 

Recovery is about giving up what doesn’t work. Once you let go and surrender to a program of recovery, the attitude of resistance disappears like a helium balloon released into the atmosphere. Surrender dissolves resistance. To overcome resistance you must surrender your ego to a better plan, and the thought that you can have your cake and eat it too, and that those who have surrendered are not the enemy but your friends. As long as your ego remains in charge you have not surrendered and your destructive behaviors will be operative. Resistance to suggestions made by sponsors is commonplace. What are you resistant to do in your recovery life? There is a Zen proverb that says “Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong”. Surrender is seldom one-and-done but is a daily transaction. 

Defensiveness is a decision. It grows like mold on every addict. It blocks recovery insight because it is preoccupied by what others do to hurt you. You can become defensive about how others treat you and things that go wrong in your life. It becomes a vortex that blinds all other alternative actions. Defensiveness is an outside focus that blocks your inward view of your own behavior. Defensiveness accelerates with momentum as you attempt to blame others for your hurt and shortcomings. Lao Tzu once wrote, “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner”. As long as others are responsible, you don’t change. You give away your energy trying to convince someone else they are responsible for your dissatisfaction. Your growing frustration only increases your defensive attitude and keeps you stuck in destructive behavior. Recovery requires that you give up your defensive storyline and embrace responsibility for your actions regardless of others’ thoughts, opinions, and behaviors. If you are stuck in defensiveness, you will need help to see it but you will need to take action to surrender and accept responsibility for your own well-being. 

Valerie Cox wrote a poem, The Cookie Thief, about a guy who in an airport she thought was stealing from her bag of cookies. She never said anything but gathered feelings of despise and resentment toward him. However, in the end, she realized she had packed away her cookies in her own bag and was eating from a bag she mistakenly thought was hers but was his bag. It turned out she was the ingrate, the cookie thief. This poem reflects on experiences of recovery from addiction. Addicts easily become ensued with judgment toward others around them.

Judgmentalism serves as a way of giving yourself a pass. People say they don’t go to church, to a 12-step group, nor engage in other community groups because of the hypocrites. Yet, we are all hypocrites. Hypocrisy is a part of being human. This reality doesn’t make it ok. It calls for accountability and a commitment to live in consultation. Jesus said before you comment on the splinter in another person’s eye take the plank out of your own. The problem in recovery involves the challenge to surrender our judgments about others and ourselves. The Dalai Lama wrote, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace”. Forgiveness is a process of letting go of the hurts that others have committed toward us by embracing, in principle, the same behaviors we have done toward others. It means that we let go of our judgment and walk in the opposite direction of the hurtful behavior we have done as well as that which has been done to us. We do this with love and compassion extended toward self and others. Again the Dalai Lama wrote, “From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion”. Take inventory of your own judgmental spirit toward others. In what ways have you been cynical and judgmental toward others? These judgmental behaviors must be surrendered in order for recovery to flourish. 

There is a well-known Sufi story about a man who was walking through the forest and saw a fox that had lost its legs, and he wondered how it lived. Then he saw a tiger come up with game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and left the rest of the meat for the fox. 

The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger. The man began to wonder at God’s greatness and said to himself, I too shall just rest in a corner with full trust in the Lord and he will provide me with all that I need.

He did this for many days but nothing happened, and he was almost at death’s door when he heard a voice say, “O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth! Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the tiger”.

Recovery requires that we let go of imitating the disabled fox with defensiveness and judgmentalism of ourselves and others. It insists that every day we let go of our resistance toward giving up what does not work and follow the empowered way of the tiger. This tool requires that you take time to assess whether you have been imitating the disabled fox or are you willing to follow the example of the tiger?

Surrender’s Sweet Spot: Knowing When to Quit “Rehab is for Quitters”

Recovery is such a paradox—to be in control means to let go; to win you must know how/what to lose; to know God is to humbly embrace what you don’t know; to go deep in wisdom you must dare to embrace the commonplace average. 

I can remember always trying too hard when I was a kid. Shamed by my athletic performance very young, I never thought I could measure up, so I would try harder than everyone else or so I thought. I remember when I was about 14, I worked for one of my older brothers who managed a Shell Oil gas station. He had given me an assignment to create a window display with all the oil cans that were for sale. Then, it was popular to create a kind of pyramid display. Some gas stations made it an artistic arrangement that expanded the entire picture window with a design that went all the way to the ceiling. I was determined that was what I was going to create. I thought about a design that made sense in my head and went to work. I would construct my pyramid almost to the top of the ceiling and then it would collapse—not a row or two but the entire pyramid which frustrated and embarrassed me. That morning I tried seven times—each attempt met with failure. My brother would stick his head in the room to see how I was doing at the most inconspicuous time—when the cans were spread out all over the floor. He kept asking “You ‘bout done ?” Each time he’d ask I’d get pissed and with determination. I’d try it again and then again. Finally, on the seventh failure, I cussed and began to cry. Fearful that I would be seen crying by my brother and called a “big baby” I went to the bathroom to hide. I got myself together went back to the display room picked all the oil cans and put them back in the boxes and quit! Then and a couple of other times prior to getting into recovery were the only times I recall ever quitting in my life. I was surrounded in a culture that taught me well that—whatever you do, don’t quit. The mantra “winners don’t quit” was ear wormed in my conscience and drove me at times into the ground.

The truth is that a champion’s testimony is about knowing when to quit and what to quit. Trying too hard always freezes capabilities and pushes away opportunities to achieve and move forward. The only way to recognize trying too hard is to try too hard and experience its disappointment and failure. Michael Jordan talked about letting go of trying too hard of doing everything for his team and allowing the game to come to him. He emphasized that it was this understanding of his profession that helped him to flourish in becoming the great basketball player he was destined to be. Many of us can relate to some degree about allowing our abilities and talents to develop and flourish professionally by letting go and allowing the work to come to us. So, professionally we soon learn that it is important to know what to quit as well as when to soldier on.

The challenge comes when life asks that we transfer this skill set of knowledge and wisdom into our personal relationships and recovery lives. Doing more and harder what doesn’t work needs to be stopped. Yet, many of us hold on with a death grip trying to control what we cannot control in our relationship lives. You can’t make your partner sober. You can’t make him/her stop ragging and nagging about how you lied, cheated, and broke their heart. You can’t make your son or daughter stop using or be successful. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to control anything or anyone but yourself. All attempts with temporary success are only an illusion that keeps you drunk with efforts to control. Only when you realize and surrender will you quit. That’s why we say “Rehab is for quitters”. 

However, quitting often means to start. It means getting back into your own lane and recognizing your limitations. Surely, it means going deep within your own lane of understanding and mining the depths of family of origin hurt and dysfunction that fuels this compulsive need to control what you cannot. To quit means to embrace the personal fear and face what that might mean drawing upon the strength of a Higher Power and others who have been there. So quitting often means to start as well. 

In recovery, sometimes we think we have to do so much to get it right so that we can escape the throes of addictive acting out. Yet, the truth is that some of you feel this way and you have not acted out—you are living profoundly different than you were when you were active in your addiction. Still, you feel the pressure that you have to do more to keep from being less. This is a sign that you are trying to control what you cannot. So you have to let go of making your partner’s smile of approval your everything and sole marker as to whether you are OK or not. Until you do you will not know the sweet spot of surrender that propels long-term sobriety. Letting go does not mean you are insensitive or boorish toward others, particularly your partner whose heart you have broken with your addictive acting out. It means a clear surrender and recognition that though you have broken trust. You cannot heal the broken heart of your partner and must retreat to gentle validation with healthy boundaries lest you take the bait of trying to control what you cannot. This can become a painful behavioral vortex that leads to overwhelm and relapse. 

Trying to force things to happen is controlling. When you have done your part and then step out of your lane and get into controlling, caretaking, and coercing you have lost your way. Trying to make something happen is a good way to create a block that prevents what you hope from becoming a reality. It’s time to practice quitting again.

Melody Beattie, the author of Codependent No More, says “Do your part in relaxed, peaceful harmony. Then let it go. Just let it go. Force yourself to let it go. If necessary, “Act as if.” Put as much energy into letting go as you have into trying to control. You’ll get much better results. (Language of Letting Go, July 22). Most of us who get stuck in fear and try to cling to control must do deeper work at the point of a family of origin. 

When I was a young boy movies with a Western theme dominated the television screen. I have this image of a stagecoach with a team of horses running out of control across the prairie. There is the stagecoach driver or the “Whip” and then there is this young boy sitting next to him hanging onto the side rail with all his might. At some point, the “whip” hands the reins for the horses to the young boy and says “Kid you’re on your own”. The prairie funnels into a narrow passageway with a 100’ drop-off. We all know that as long as the kid has the reigns that the coach and every animal attached is going to wind up at the bottom of that drop-off. However, the driver, the veteran “whip” firmly takes the reins from the boy and rather than chastise or berate the boy, he draws the boy close to his side as he takes charge. He whispers into the boy’s ear “I’ve been here many times before and I know how to get this team of horses to slow—even to a complete stop—and we will navigate this narrow passageway and all will be fine” and that is exactly what occurs. 

You are the “whip” the stagecoach driver of your life. The only time you get into trouble is when you give the reins to the small child and expect him/her to navigate what only the experienced adult can manage. Truth is, we often hand the reins to the small child within. Yet, when we recognize and take back the reins from the child within, we successfully navigate, knowing when to let go of control, when to quit, and when to steady the course and persevere. Surrendering what you cannot control will require the powerful adult within you to take the reins from the fearful child within.