personal growth

The Secret Life of Long-Term Sobriety, Part 1

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For many in recovery sobriety is a mystery.  A 12-step group usually starts with a prayer and often ends with clasped hands in a circle repeating in unison “It works if you work it and you’re worth it”. Over the years I have heard many addicts testify that in those same meetings, after all the good-declared intention, they acted out before they got home and sometimes even before they left the parking lot.

There is a great divide in reality at 12-step meetings. There are the haves and have-nots. Those who have sobriety and those who don’t. For many, sobriety is elusive. At times, after working hard to achieve sobriety, it can slip through the fingers in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. How are some able to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety while others cannot?

Over the next two blogs, I want to propose 11 keys that are vital to creating long-term sobriety:

1. A decision to stop no matter what it takes. This, like the ten other keys, seems like a no-brainer. Yet, through observance of the meetings I attend and the addicts I counsel, this key is often missing. I ask many addicts who come to do work at PCS if they are done with their addiction. I often get the reply “I’m here, aren’t I?” It’s almost as if somehow showing up to the PCS building would be magical and that the building and all the therapists will transform him or her from a raging addict to zen-like sobriety. Addicts can make a great therapist look inept or an average therapist into a rockstar. It all depends upon the attitude that he or she chooses. I recall my wife Eileen and I saying to each other that “we would hock our socks” to get healthy. That was about the reality that we had no funds for treatment. The decision was to do whatever it takes. Many addicts come to a 12-step meeting without a “white hot” intensity to transform their lives. They look for someone to give them something or to take care of them. It is common for some addicts to show up with an attitude of entitlement. Long-term sobriety requires something very simple: You must want to stop more than anything else in the world.

2. Be humble. You would think that an addict’s life of frustration and failure would result in humility. Yet, often this is not the case. Addicts present most frequently with arrogance. Some are full of conceit and presumption while others seem demure on the surface, but underneath are full of disdain and hubris. The truth is that practicing humility is a lifelong challenge. It requires charting a recovery course that includes holding your attitude and spirit accountable to group members. It demands that you put people in your life who role model humility. It is common for addicts in recovery to assume they won’t need to practice humility and lose their hunger for it. Often, addicts fall into a trap that they have done this work for so long that they do not need to embrace this fundamental component of recovery. This is where you fall into lapse or relapse behavior. You might not act out but for sure you will stop growing deep without humility.

3. Be coachable. I will never forget my earliest days in 12-step recovery. I would question the purpose of each step and present as cynical of the overall process. My sponsor, Chip, who was for the most part mild-mannered, cleared his throat and said “Ken, I think it would be in your best interest to shut up and just do what you were told to do”. This admonition hurt my feelings and was used to save my own life. It is rare to find an addict who is hungry to take guidance. Most of us think we can do this by ourselves. You can be inspired by others who testify about reaching out, but most of us don’t do this very well. This is true even though your best thoughts and actions got you into the addict-behavior mess you are in. With stubborn inflexibility, many addicts refuse to listen or take action from what they hear in a 12-step meeting. The doctor can write the prescription, but you have to take the medicine.

4. Live your recovery in consultation with accountability. There is an oft-repeated saying around 12-step groups, “If 8 or 9 people tell you that you have a tail . . .check your ass in the mirror!” Though humorous, there is important recovery wisdom here. Addicts don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They bristle with direct feedback. Yet there is no other way to establish long-term sobriety. It requires a shift in spirit and attitude. The reason a sponsor tells a sponsee to call them every day is to create the habit of living in consultation. Most addicts won’t do this. It contributes to shortsighted relapse. There is a difference between consultation and dependence. Recovery becomes a paradox. You are taught to consult, and in the end, every action you take in your life is about your choice and decision. Be accountable. Live in consultation with others. It cements long-term sobriety.

5. Don’t just do the steps. Learn to live them in commonplace experience. Addicts get overwhelmed trying to do the steps. Perfectionism is a contributing reason why some addicts stop before completing all the steps. Step 4 is particularly difficult. More addicts get stuck in Step 4 than any other step. Addicts think they have to do this monumental undertaking. It’s as if you must walk through burning coals and stay there until your sponsor permits you to step out. Step 4 is difficult. We don’t have to make it harder than it is. A thorough Step 4 is never complete. So, address a character flaw, even a few. Sit with it. Learn what you can in the moment of focus and then move on. It is important in recovery to understand we don’t do the 12 steps but we learn to embrace and apply them in the common places of everyday living. 

Facing Abandonment

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Addicts have many anxieties and fears. They grew up with holes in their souls with unmet childhood developmental needs from parents who failed to provide the fundamental emotional needs necessary. Some addicts suffered woeful negligence from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. For many their parents failed to provide necessary support because they didn’t know how. Their parents loved them but were unable to give to their children that which was not given to them.  

Children learn that their parents loved them when they provide clothing, food, shelter, education, and other material possessions. However, children comprehend that they matter when a parent spends sufficient amounts of time with them on their terms, not the parents. Children develop a hole in their soul when this doesn’t happen. Subconsciously they conclude they don’t matter. They don’t consider that something is wrong with their parents. Instead, they embrace the misbelief that they must not be worthy or important enough for the attention desired.  

Developmentally they become like a chunk of Swiss cheese with holes. Each hole represents an unmet childhood need. Kids learn to compensate by trying to fill the hole from the outside with a cocktail of relational experience. They learn to please and gain approval through performance or get attention with negative social behavior. It doesn’t work because the depth of emotional need that must be met will ultimately only be fulfilled from within. They become like the little kid who can’t get enough sugar. Their emotional neediness becomes insatiable. Eventually, they organize a dependency upon an addictive substance or process that delivers what it promises. For many, it involves a collection of addictions that are depended upon to assuage their fears and anxieties and to numb out what hurts. 

One of the greatest fears that an addict faces is that of abandonment, physically, emotionally, or both. Abandonment is like the metaphor of a pack of wolves that chase you through the woods. The pack pursues you relentlessly even though you create diversionary tactics of avoidance. Eventually, the pack corners you. Either the pack wins and consumes you with addictive behavior or you turn around and face the gnashing teeth of abandonment.  In doing so you begin to realize that it is not the terrorizing force that its growl suggests. 

Addicts become pleasers, workaholics, and deniers to avoid conflict. Behind their behavior is a pernicious fear of abandonment. They will do anything to avoid feeling deserted. Addiction becomes a lifelong affair to avoid abandonment. Some addicts have described their relationship to their drug of choice as a warm blanket that offers consistent comfort from fear and anxiety. What lurks behind every addictive high is the fear of abandonment. How to address abandonment is critical to the long-term sobriety from addiction. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Embrace the fact that the fear of abandonment is universal. Abandonment is not just a fear that afflicts addicts. It impacts partners of addicts and the world at large. It is a common thread of life experience. Recognizing that everyone experiences this fear helps to avoid isolation or the conclusion that you are particularly flawed and different from those around you. You are not! We all must face our fear of abandonment. 

2. Others may desert you but the key is to learn not to desert yourself. This may seem obvious. Yet, simple things are not easy. It’s an automatic response for a child to subconsciously attempt to capture a parents’ attention when neglected.  When children lack recognition for who they are, they try to compensate with what they can do. If the inattentiveness is chronic the child will participate in behaviors that will get their parent’s recognition in order to avoid abandonment. Over time they learn that who they are matters less than how they act or what they do. Essentially, they learn to abandon themselves. Overcoming the fear of abandonment requires that you learn to reclaim the importance of being and parent yourself in healthy ways. You must learn to pay attention to your genuine needs and not abandon yourself through pleasing others.

3. Listen to your triggers, don’t just run from them.  Triggered with fear or lust for your drug of choice can be a gift! This is true for both addicts and partners. When triggered, put yourself out of harm’s way and take time to let the trigger talk to you about your unmet needs that must be met in a healthy way. Some addicts spend much of their recovery reporting about triggers and chronic high risk behaviors, thinking that telling another addict when they have been tempted is enough. However, it is a beginning. When tempted think about the legitimate need that is represented in the trigger and then endeavor to self-parent by meeting the need in a healthy way through adult choice and interaction. Rather than abandon yourself by only running away from the trigger, allow the trigger to speak its truth and transform the trigger from a curse to a blessing. Practicing this skill set which takes a lot of hard work is a major step that avoids abandonment of self.

4. Take the people with you who abandon you. People hurt each other and abandon one another. People die. Relationships end through the passage of time, betrayal, and a myriad of other reasons. It sucks to feel abandoned. Yet, it is a broken experience that is common to all. It requires skills to grieve the loss of what once was. Some people live life longing for yesterday’s experiences in order to avoid feeling abandoned. The end result is that they wallow in the abandonment.  I suggest that you take the lost person or experience with you. Keep it with you in your heart. It is not necessary to live in the past. Yet, you can bring those experiences with others with you in the here and now through treasured memory. Even in the face of betrayal, you can embrace your truth and the closeness that once was, and the pure intent you generated when others were invested in ulterior motives. Precious memories need not be abandoned. Loved ones who are now deceased can be alive in your heart. We all live in a nanosecond of present time and then it too becomes historical. So we hold precious experience by treasuring its memory in our hearts. Learn to address abandonment by taking your precious personal intents and initiatives with you in your heart. The good in all the relationships you have ever experienced can dwell inside of you no matter what others choose to do. When you consider the power and potential that exists within, you never need to be dominated by abandonment again.

Self Defeating Illusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Sacred Moments—Learning to Be in the Life You Already Have

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When I was a little kid, I used to always want to be somewhere else than where I was. When I sat in school in the third grade I could hear bulldozers and carpenters pounding nails outdoors and wished I could be one of them—anywhere but in school.  When I sat through long hours at church I daydreamed about playing baseball to avoid the boredom and drudgery. During the summertime as a teenager, I would hoe beans and detassel corn. While walking the rows I would fantasize about swimming in a favorite swimming hole.

Looking back as an adult, some of those places don’t seem quite as bad as I once thought they were. I even have fond memories of grade school and summer jobs. However, as an adult, I have been in places where I wanted to be anywhere other than where I was. 

Addicts and entrepreneurs have the same experience. Dread and craving trigger an addict to avoid what is real. Driven dreams powered by doing more to keep from being less, push many entrepreneurs toward the next enterprise. People tend to want to build a road to someplace other than where they are. Many find it scary and stressful to be present in the now moments of life and struggle to be comfortable in their own skin. So they keep moving from one project to the next or from one high to the next hit as an addict.

Recovery includes a voice that calls each of us to listen to the insights and wisdom that come from the heart. It won’t scream at you like busyness and chaos often do. In your darkest moment when you face total exhaustion, it will speak to you with clarity and resonance.  Rather than look outside yourself for fulfillment you find the realization inside as you sit with your own personal brilliance, not to be utilized to do something great but to understand that you are something great just as you are.

Here are a few keys to cultivating sacred moments in the here and now:

#1: Take a deep breath and be where you are. In the presence of disgruntled living and the tumultuous commotion to create something new, inhabit the life you are given. There is nothing wrong with improving your outer circumstances. Yet, going someplace means nothing if you cannot appreciate and become present in what is real right now! Eckart Tolle wrote “As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love–-even the most simple action.” Make the present space you are in a sacred moment.

#2: Slow your compulsive thinking about tomorrow. Understand that this present moment with its trial and tribulation is interconnected to all that exists. Troublesome times augment for inner choice. First, accept whatever situation that you are in with its accompanying feelings. Then change the circumstances by improving your attitude or leaving the unacceptable condition. Wallowing with negative feelings of complaint and derision will disconnect you from a possible sacred moment. Your present day struggle is a significant element to your future success because it is now which is the only time you will ever experience. Let the feelings that lie underneath the compulsive thought teach you what you need at the moment to care for yourself and mark that moment as a sacred experience. 

#3: Don’t forget “Yesterday ended last night.”  Lamenting about what could have been, should have been, or used to be is a common human response to life circumstances. Sports fans often reminisce about lost championships or glory days past. Addicts struggle to let go of missed or failed opportunities. Entrepreneurs sometimes languish in agony about what might be a reality if they just pulled the trigger on a particular investment or idea. Some become bitter with resentment toward others they blame for their missed opportunity.  What is missing is acceptance. Working with what is reality in the present moment requires that you work with the results of past actions and not wallow in what could have been. Even, yesterday’s successes must be treated like yesterday’s newspaper. Saying yes to today’s results is a recognition that yesterday’s negative or positive results do not determine your experience in the present moment. Aaron Rogers, the great NFL quarterback once said “I have been to the top and I have been to the bottom and peace comes from some other place.” He’s right and that peace comes from the sacred moment of embracing the here and now regardless of yesterday’s results or the feelings you experience in the here and now. 

Sitting With Your Own Insides

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Someone once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere!” Human relationships trigger worry. Everyone wants to be liked. You worry that what you might say or do is hurtful to someone you care about. You try to control others so they avoid unnecessary painful experiences. This is true in marital relationships when one partner tries to control what the other does around cooking, driving, or other annoying behavioral patterns. 

Sometimes people get stuck with obsessional control. This is common with dysfunctional family relationships. Family members become enmeshed and attempt to control what another family member thinks or does by trying to live inside their skin. It is very intrusive and destructive. Sometimes families control what children do for play, making friends, and creating pressure about career choices. Families strongly influence the choice of a life partner. Cultural, religious, and economic status are family factors that play a critical influence on an individual’s decisions about life. To the extreme, family members lose sight of where they stop and another family member starts because of intense enmeshment. 

Addicts lose themselves in their addiction. They take up too much space. If addiction is a big balloon in a small room, the addict takes up all the space and smashes everyone against the wall to get what they want when they want it. They don’t know where they stop and other people start. 

The first order of business in recovery is to get the runaway train going down the track (the addiction) stopped. The second order of business is to establish boundaries with friends, family, and work. Addicts act like my old Craftsman lawn mower; without a governor, it revs up faster and faster until the engine finally explodes. Addicts need a governor. That’s what learning boundaries are all about. They are essential for addicts to recover.

Addicts go to a treatment facility to stop the train from running out of control down the tracks. Most treatment facilities are very good at helping an addict recognize that he/she is out of control. By the time 30-60 days of treatment is complete, an addict can see and think straight for the first time in years. They feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

The test is when they return home, the dysfunctional dynamics are the same. An addict is expected to come home and fit right in. “Treatment was for you. You need to know how to fit in with your family. We are your people who love you!” Comments like this greet a recovering addict upon home arrival. Family members walk around the dead dog in the living room. The family game of ignoring the obvious and embracing the improbable is in full operation. The unhealthy roles family members play are solidly enforced. The family is in denial of its dysfunction. Members project that the addict is the identified patient. Hurtful enmeshment is denied. If the addict confronts hurtful, dysfunctional behavior, he is met with comments that he/she is being dishonest and is delusional. “That’s the reason you went away for treatment” it’s concluded. All too often the family remains the enabling system that fuels the addictive behavior. Dysfunctional families cannot see the forest for trees. Essentially, nothing changes in the home environment that the addict returns to.

Friends also are impactful. Most addicts must create an entirely new set of friendships. This is difficult. Addicts who follow through and do this or at least try, wrestle with not belonging, loneliness, and feel ostracized. It takes courage to overcome despair, eliminate delusion, denial, and dishonesty and minimize defensiveness while recovering from addictive behavior. 

Learning to sit with what you feel inside is hard to do. It requires training to sit with an uncomfortable experience and not numb out with an addictive choice. It is common for addicts to become busy with recovery and avoid sitting in discomfort. You can become busy with doing recovery tasks, attending recovery meetings, completing 12 steps, and participating in recovery social gatherings which adds to the busyness of doing life with all of its demands and never learn to sit with your own insides. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Learn to stay in your own lane. This is what boundaries are all about. Much has been written about boundaries and recovery. Successful recovery requires that you create internal boundaries that help you to separate from trying to please others when you need to care for yourself. You will need to create strong external boundaries that do not let others treat you with disrespect. You cannot make a person respect you but boundaries with consequences will take care of you when others treat you with scorn and disrespect. Work with a therapist, sponsor, and recovery friend to fine-tune your boundaries in order to improve your capacity to sit with your own insides.

2. Train in detachment. Learn to separate from high-risk scenarios, family settings, and friendship situations that you know are destructive to your recovery. Addicts are intensely fearful of being abandoned. It started with their family of origin. Detaching from hurtful situations is a way of growing yourself up into the powerful adult that your destiny requires of you. It’s scary. Yet, it is an important way to teach others to respect you and treat you with dignity. Detachment will never occur without the voice of assertion. Other people will learn to appreciate your values when you assertively detach from unhealthy behaviors. Sometimes when you step back, family members will take note and offer a new respectful appreciation for your boundaries. Other times family members might misunderstand, feel hurt, and distance themselves from you. Either way, you will need to practice internal and external boundaries that promote self-care. Your willingness to sit with this discomfort will be a critical proving ground for building a solid foundation for recovery.

3. Learn to grieve. Addicts need to grieve the loss of addictive behavior. It involves embracing the entire gamut of feelings. When you don’t grieve your losses you will tend to live outside of yourself. This creates distance from what’s truly going on inside. Grieving embraces the resentment for no longer having your “friend” of addiction choice in your life. That resentment needs to be felt and expressed directly. You will need to cry for yourself. Many men learn to cry for others but have been told they cannot cry for themselves. There are many things to grieve in recovery. Loss of childhood, loss of honesty and integrity, loss of childhood dependency needs not being met, loss of curiosity, adventure, and loss of choices are only a few issues that need to be grieved.

4. Practice affirmations. It takes courage to sit with your own insides. When you do, clarity will appear. It’s not magic but it is assured. To do this task you must engage in affirming yourself. The practice of self-affirmation is an age-old recovery skill set that is most often overlooked. Yet, it is helpful to affirm your feelings. Learn to practice self-affirmation about your sense of being. Make it a part of your daily experience in the same way you do physical hygiene. You will find it transformational. This skill practice is nothing new but revolutionizing. 

Addicts in recovery have learned to sit with their own insides. They deepen their own self-awareness with keen intuition. They learn to navigate dysfunctional systems by staying in their own lane, detaching from what hurts, and grieving the inevitable losses that come in life. In the end, addicts who practice affirming themselves assert the transformational power of recovery.

Adjustments – The Key to Overcoming A Fixed Mind

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When you combine addiction with age, sometimes you come out with a grumpy old man. At least that is what it seems like for me some days. Addiction can be like working out. It makes you sore. You want what you want when you want it, but in recovery you know it doesn’t work that way. No matter how hard you work Step 3 to let go and let God, some days are just hard, irritating, and exhausting. Makes you want to swear. I know guys in recovery who live in a constant b******g and moaning state. They’re not fun to be around in a 12-step meeting. God only knows what they are like at home. 

I tell people that as a recovering addict, I wake up most mornings with a bad attitude. In recovery, if you don’t manage your spirit and attitude, you will be in for a long day. So I do. I have discovered that I am prone to become rigid with fear and anxiety which leads to shame, judgmentalism, and sour thoughts about the world around me. These fixed thoughts can fossilize in my brain unless I get out of my comfort zone every day to break up my fixed mind and stretch my thoughts. I open my heart to less-than-ideal situations, to people who don’t think like me, and to situations that are irritating.  Opening my heart with acceptance and tolerance helps to foster love toward me and others in the world around me. 

It is helpful to stop and observe those who adjust to whatever circumstance is presented. Outdoor enthusiasts tend to be this way. When camping out and something breaks, is left at home, or they are hit with a deluge of rain, they just adjust and do the next best thing. Some outdoors people are amazing in terms of how they remain calm, make adjustments, and move on as if it is no big deal. My son Sam exemplified this snowmobiling in Idaho. His machine broke down. He replaced a worn belt that had been shredded with a new belt. The new belt promptly shredded, leaving him stranded about 20 miles from somewhere. Then he broke the tool inside the carburetor of the machine and he seemed really screwed. But, he just hitched a ride with his partner, and we went to beautiful hot springs and renewed and refreshed with nary a major complaint. Later, he had to tow his machine behind his partner’s. There were even yet more hassles trying to get the part fixed. Yet, he just kept adjusting and putting the negative in a positive frame of mind. 

How can an addict do the same when faced with obstacles, disappointments, and times that are tough?

1. Take a deep breath and lean into the difficulty. No one signs up for hassles and frustration. Hassles are difficult, but they are not the end of the world. Most of us live to see another day when it seems everything has gone awry. Sitting with your struggles is a way to calm your mind and heart. Take a few minutes and just be still. Allow the anger, disappointment, anxiety, and resentment to build, then at that moment, it will subside. If you express yourself when these powerful feelings are building, you will hurt yourself and others. If you need to take a break, a walk, a drive—anything that will help you de-escalate, do it. Condition yourself to lean into the struggle and accept it for what it is. It is not glamorous but it works.

2. Be grateful at the moment you most want to explode with criticism, cutting remarks, or just give up. Boy, you say, this is easier said than done. It’s true! So, you must work to train yourself to begin gratitude recognition, not because it feels good but because it will help you adjust and shift away from a bad attitude.  Re-condition your mind from negativity to focusing on positive possible outcomes throughout the day. Gratitude fuels enough energy to plant your feet and your heart so that you can be true to your life source.

3. Rely on your affirmations. I am not a positive mental attitude guru, but if you are one who is stuck in a bad attitude, it sure beats the hell out of hanging out in the dregs of negativity. Yet, this doesn’t happen by simple choice. It requires that you stoke your brain with ongoing positive messages about yourself and the world around you.  When you do this with regularity, it breaks up the sludge of negativity and helps to make the necessary adjustments that make recovery worthwhile.

4. Don’t force your will on to the day’s experience. Have a plan and work on your recovery. Be prepared to shift when things don’t work out as planned. Let the fruit of your day come to you. If you work your plan and shift from a fixed mind (inflexibility), watch how meaningfulness surfaces in the midst of your difficulty. You will be able to bring forth your brilliance from an average day of struggle. Rather than force purpose and meaningfulness, let it come to you with acceptance and surrender to what happens around you, to you, and through you in an average moment each day.

Over the 30+ years I have been in recovery, I have observed many 12-step addicts sustain long-term sobriety. I know many who have very little patience, tolerance, or capacity to adjust when things go wrong. I don’t know any who experience daily serenity but who have not deepened their journey with Step 3 and learned to become flexible, letting go and adjusting to life as it is presented each day.  Adjustment is a life skill that keeps your heart open.  It is a cure for an inflexible, rigid, closed heart.


This new post was written by Ken Wells. In Dare to be AverageKen’s new book, you can embrace healing, peace, and self-acceptance through meaningful insights to discover purpose and fulfillment in everyday life. 


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A Worn Road Less Traveled

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“Two Roads diverged in a wood,

I took the one less traveled, 

And that has made all the difference.”

– Robert Frost

An addict contemplating recovery sees only two options. It is either use or die with craving. Addicts don’t usually die with cravings but they habitually succumb to acting out. In the beginning days of recovery, addicts are poor at creating options. They come from an either/or, black/white world. They either use or obsess about using until the craving has subsided. 

People live with shame and pain. They live disconnected from their inner self. Most of us long for connection. Mindlessly, we listen to the radio or to a podcast when driving. Aimlessly, we scroll texts, emails, and a host of social media platforms disengaged and lost in the spectacle of it all. For an addict, any reason is a good reason to use. In recovery, creating options to using requires that you take the road less traveled. There are no shortcuts. There is no room for perfection. It requires a willingness to endure painful moments, relentless perseverance, and a commitment to being a little better today than you were yesterday. 

Along the road, there will be a dawning that you are a spiritual being having a human experience. This will transform your struggle into sacred meaningfulness. This awareness is hallowed throughout 12-step rooms across the world. Carl Jung once concluded that what chronic addicts needed was a spiritual experience and ongoing communal support. 

Most addicts in recovery settle for sobriety. Certainly, it beats the hell out of wallowing in the pain and distortion from a life lived in the agony of addictive behavior. Yet, few engage the worn road less traveled. Once you have put the cork in the bottle, what is next? Are you willing to go deeper? Are you willing to explore what is missing? Are you curious to understand why the addiction? Why the pain? Do you want to address that feeling in your gut that you are not good enough? These questions and more represent the gateway to a worn road less traveled. To those who have committed to sobriety and who are no longer content to rotate the object of addiction, I offer the following road markers on the worn road less traveled.

1. Adopt a mindset for recovery: Practice brainstorming more than one option for every challenge you face. Breakthrough the either/or mentality. Change your language about how you see yourself and the world around you. Dare to dream about creating the kind of person you want to be.  Figure out what your song is and sing it. The expedition in recovery truly begins when you earnestly are willing to truly change your mindset about addiction, yourself, and the world around you.

2. Become a Sponge: What has helped me to be successful in my world of endeavor is that I became a sponge to learn everything I could to be the best I could be. I was a minister in a church for over 25 years. During the beginning days of my training, I worked for three years for free, with whom I thought was the very best.  I asked so many questions that the lead pastor asked me to stop asking so many questions. Today I am proud that I learned to be a sponge in ministry and as a professional counselor. That said, it saved my life in recovery. Early in recovery, I adopted the mindset of learning everything I could about recovery. It is one of the fundamentals that has projected my personal growth during the past 33 years in recovery. Be a sponge!

3. Learn to fail forward: People who embrace a healthy recovery mindset create a paradigm shift in their thinking about failed behavior. They make it exciting. They realize that within their failure are lessons to learn that will help them become a little better today than they were yesterday. Rather than wallow in the mud of shame and negative thinking, they practice conditioning themselves to pursue a better way to live. They learn to transform the word excitement from a necessary feeling to a committed action of exploring what went wrong and doing something different. 

4. Practice Playback: This road marker is related to the previous one. When an addict relapses, it is common to admit the destructive behavior and then get back on the horse and try again. It is often brushed off with the idea that “I’m an addict” and what needs to happen is that I just need to bear down with my recovery skills. Sometimes, they commit to going to 90 meetings in 90 days or start again doing the 12 steps. What often is overlooked is the importance of playback. When addicts admit their failure to their support community, what is left out is why they relapsed and what happened. What often is overlooked is the importance of playback. It is crucial to go back and unpack what happened and where the breakdown was. A golfer will learn to improve his/her swing by watching videos of past swings. A basketball player will learn where they were out of position and how to correct other mistakes by watching past videos of performances. A recovering addict needs to do the same. Go back and fastidiously review triggers, build-up behaviors, and mistaken beliefs that dominated and then practice over and again replacement behavior that corrects what broke down. We never become perfect. But playback will help you become incrementally better than before. So, practice playback and pay it forward with an incremental positive change that over time will make a profound difference. 

5. Protect your imagination and get outside your comfort zone: It is counterintuitive for an addict to embrace discomfort. Running from emotional and physical pain is at the root of why addiction grows in the first place. Though contraindicated, in recovery an addict learns to lean into the pain and sit with it. Recovery requires that you get outside your comfort zone. Only when you do this, are you able to give birth to the person that your destiny is pulling you toward. The worn road less traveled demands that you live outside your comfort zone. This is where the problem is. Once sober from the hectic helter-skelter life of addiction and within the warm and friendly confines of a 12-step community, an addict is asked to push toward living outside of his/her comfort zone. It requires sensitivity to the support of the community while pushing forward to dream and realize your destiny. In doing so you must protect your imagination from the negative messages of “you can’t” or “who do you think you are.”  You must protect your imagination from the impact of your personal failures or others who subtly want to pull you back into an old mindset. It is a road less traveled for those who live outside their comfort zone. Laying it on the line and pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone will require a commitment to being the best person you can be one day at a time. Sometimes you will take 2 steps forward and then 3 steps backward. Everyone slips even as they soar. Overcome your setbacks by doing the next right thing regardless of how you feel. You won’t think your way into acting differently. You will act your way into a different way of thinking. Don’t abandon your quest to fulfill your imagination. Stop flogging yourself with negative messages. Every positive thought and action will move you closer to your desired transformation. The worn road less traveled requires that you protect your imagination and live outside your comfort zone. 

6. Choose your support community carefully and elevate those around you: One of the biggest challenges for an addict is to create an environment that fosters sobriety and personal growth. Most addicts have not surrendered to recovery behavior and hang around old friends who either influence them to return to addictive behavior or who thwart their vision of fulfilling their destiny. Like the old saying, “Hang around the barbershop long enough and you will get a haircut”, many addicts can testify to the reality of this powerful truth! The worn road less traveled in recovery will require that you weed out those who bring you down. You will need to distance yourself from the dream crushers around you. Don’t let them rent premium space in your mind. Foster a web of influence that will inspire you to achieve and transform yourself and hold you accountable to your imagination. Build an environment where half-assed efforts are unacceptable. Cultivate your brilliance by choosing a support community that expects greatness within. Create a support system that you can solicit counsel from those who will inspire you. Always know that on the worn road less traveled, life transformation is a team sport. 

When I wrote the book Dare to Be Average, Cultivating Brilliance in the Commonplace the emphasis was the opposite of half-hearted living. Rather, it is about taking the worn road less traveled and embracing the common everyday moment—even those that provide emotional discomfort—and mining meaningfulness from each one. This pursuit of meaningfulness is required in recovery for those who choose the worn road less traveled.

The Power of Deep Belief in Who You Are

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I hesitate to write about the subject of self-belief because its importance has been pounded into the heads of entrepreneurs and addicts. Many rags-to-riches stories highlight what one person can do by acting on a dream of what they envision and believe they can do. There are people who read this blog who have written about the power of belief in relation to their personal achievement of amazing accomplishments. Achieving financial security or any length of sobriety is dependent upon exercising belief in a process, a system, and actions that you believe will help you create the results you hope for. 

That said, it has been my observation that entrepreneurs and addicts who seek recovery from destructive behaviors in relationships struggle with self-belief. There is a basic misconception that you cannot face the reality of truth in a relationship conflict because of fear of rejection and abandonment at some level. This fear triggers dishonesty. You withhold the truth about your feelings in a relationship because you fear a negative impact. Many people won’t share true feelings because they don’t want to hurt the person they care about.

As a therapist, I often hear that if I tell my partner how I really feel then I have to deal with the blowback that I am going to get. There is an implied sense of abandonment if you say it straight. If you tell your partner that you don’t like their whining, complaining, expectations, parenting skills, lack of sexual pursuit, in-laws, or attitude about money, etc. then you will have to deal with their response to all of that and it won’t be pretty!  Further, you would have to deal with negative feelings about yourself for saying hurtful things to the other person. Underneath this thought is that if you do share what might be experienced as hurtful then you would have to address the negative feelings about yourself for saying hurtful things to the other person. 

There is a lack of belief that if you are vulnerable and say it straight that you will not be able to manage the conflict that is triggered by your truth to your partner. So why say it? People can live with each other forever and avoid saying the truth about subjects they fear will be hurtful and create conflict. I have seen people willing to suffer other painful consequences in order to avoid abandonment and rejection.  Most of us do not want to sign up for conflict in any relationship. Yet, conflict is a necessary reality for two people to connect in a committed relationship. 

In order to be vulnerable and address your truth in a significant relationship you must believe in yourself.  You must believe that you can embrace scary feelings like insecurity, anxiety, anger, fears of disappointment, abandonment, or rejection and survive! Here are some considerations.

1. Learn conflict resolution skills and train yourself to use them! We learn how to do conflict from our parents. Oftentimes this thought is laughable! Many parents never learned to do healthy conflict resolution so their role modeling was very poor. So, you will need to pick up the slack through conflict resolution skills training. There are many courses and approaches. They all can work. The biggest challenge is that most people have become entrenched in destructive behaviors in dealing with conflict from thousands of hours of poor parental role modeling that even when they know to do differently they don’t. You can teach an old dog new tricks! If you are serious about believing in yourself in relationship healing then you will go into training with a program you select toward developing conflict resolution skills and establish accountability to hold your feet to the fire toward improving your skills to talk about what is uncomfortable. 

2. Get emotionally naked! Self-belief requires emotional nudity with those you care most about. You must be willing to appear incomplete, contradictory, wrong, misunderstood, even mixed up and confused to your significant other and those whom you want to care most about. There must be zero impression management. Getting physically naked in a romantic relationship is the easy part of romance. Becoming emotionally vulnerable with naked emotions is the path to intimacy. It requires deep belief in oneself.

3. Practice going down with vulnerable feelings with your loved one, knowing that you can come up. Everybody is intimidated by some feeling! Only those who cut off from all feelings would state that nothing scares them. Another way of saying it is that we are all intimidated by something. This is true because we are human. There is a difference between feeling intimidated and being dominated by the intimidation factor in life. We don’t have to be dominated. However, we will need to lean into our fears and anxieties. This requires self-confidence in the basic goodness of who we are. Self-confidence is not a feeling but an action. In the presence of shaky tenderness and fearful anxiety, you can go down, be real with your partner, and know that you will come back to your basic goodness. This requires training. As you train you will cultivate an unconditional confidence in your basic sense of goodness.

4. Cultivate affirmations around your fundamental goodness. Most addicts or entrepreneurs tend to affirm how they perform and the positive traits of achievements. However, it requires forethought to create affirmations that focus on “being.” It is your basic goodness that becomes the foundation for your unconditional confidence. Once you establish a list of affirmative “being” qualities, you will need to bathe yourself with them every day just like you brush your teeth and do other basic hygiene. Most addicts blow this discipline off. However, it is a secret sauce to cultivating a deep sense of self-belief.

Confronting your truth in a relationship where there are high stakes for disapproval, criticism or rejection requires deep personal belief in oneself. This is not a show of arrogance and domination. There is humility demonstrated when you know you can get emotionally naked, go down, be vulnerable about what you think, feel, want, and expect in a relationship, and know with unconditional confidence that you can come up and live with your truth.

The Compost of Community

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” —John Lennon

It is likely that most people are skeptical that the world will fulfill the vision that John Lennon crooned in the lyrics of “Imagine”. The world has always been in turmoil and uncertainty.  Today’s world is no exception. Yet. If we are to create unity and harmony with safety, dignity, and a sense of belonging it will happen in the context of community. 

We are people who need community. It is a setting that cultivates and composts ingredients for relational healing. It is a place to fertilize personal agency. It is a space to develop interdependence and to affirm individual autonomy. It is the locale to create a sense of belonging. Everyone needs to feel part of the pack. Community is the site to compost and mature personal dignity and respect. 

That said, many people have been hurt and betrayed in community. The impact of trauma and oppression makes a sense of belonging very difficult for some people. Addicts classically struggle with belonging. Some experienced traumatic abandonment. Others have felt a sense of exclusion or have felt judged as unlovable.

Healing requires that these hurts and betrayals be addressed. A 12-step community is a place to unpack the trauma of addiction and cultivate an embodied sense of belonging and security. 

In relation to others, it is an opportunity to develop the ability to self-regulate and form intimate connections as well as have separation from those with whom you are intimate. Cultivating community attachment underscores the importance of the concept that our bonds and connections with one another is central to personal development through the many stages of life. 

As you contemplate the importance of belonging to your community, it would be helpful to reflect upon who in your immediate or extended family is considered as belonging and who is not? Who do you think of that, by our broader social and economic systems, are considered as included and who is seen as disposable or as not belonging? Safety, belonging, dignity, and respect are critical composting ingredients toward building a healthy community.

In recovery, connection through community allows you to find meaningfulness in the average spaces of life. Millions in the world live disconnected from community. Unfortunately, without community, the likelihood of discovering your own personal brilliance dims. Everyday relationship interchange is the common compost that creates the healing power of community.

Mother Teresa once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Do you know someone you would describe as forgotten? When you drive to work, worship or play— do you notice the street people in your community? 

Not knowing what to do with misfortune, many look away from the homeless choosing to deal with discomfort by distancing themselves. What about the person at the grocery store who shuffles by with a blank stare on their face? Do you think of them as invisible? Folks warehoused in nursing homes across our country feel disenfranchised and forgotten. 

At this level of living, it really doesn’t matter what possessions you once owned, who you have known, or really anything else. Being unloved, uncared for, and forgotten is the greatest poverty among the living.

How this impacts you is that a fragmented disenfranchised world distorts and undermines the possibility of cultivating personal brilliance in everyday places of living. Whether you realize it or not, you are a communal creature who needs connection in order to understand the meaning of living. Isolation deadens connection like your cell phone when it is out of range. Community and commonality are important ingredients when composting individual brilliance.

A 12-step community is designed to be a cocoon and container. It is a container to express anger, overwhelming sadness, and all other intense feelings with total acceptance.  Healing requires a nonjudgmental space to unpack unwanted feelings that dominate and handcuff addicts from becoming all they can become in recovery. Community is a cocoon that provides protection from having to perform a certain way for others. It is a container that creates a space for you to sift and sort composted feelings. This is necessary for life changing transformation.  

A 12-step community provides connection. The patron saint and mystic St. John of the Cross said that “the virtuous soul alone is like a lone burning coal that grows colder not hotter outside of the fire”. So it is with those who are isolated. When people or systems look to harm or control others, isolation is a key tactic. In prisons, war, and torture, the use of isolation and solitary confinement is standard practice. It also applies to situations of domestic violence. By isolating a person from their network of support and family, the perpetrator is able to break down, hurt, and control the partner being abused. It essentially sequesters them with the person harming them. Isolation is traumatizing in every situation. 

During weekend groups that I have conducted across the United States for the past 20+ years, I have witnessed men making courageous choices to be connected by being real and vulnerable. I have experienced men sharing the deepest pain with blood curdling cries of remorse, loss, and loneliness. Group therapy that becomes community is based on the mutuality of common shared brokenness. When people compete and compare themselves to others who have shared, the mutuality evaporates and group effectiveness no longer exists.

The compost of a healing community contains a shared vision, shared goals, and shared hope. There is the compost of healing power when a member courageously shares a truth that has not been told to another living soul and then receives back from the group with total love and acceptance. There is more healing compost when a member chooses to live in accountability and consultation with other group members. There is empowerment when a group member shares from his own experience, confrontation to another member who is struggling to face the truth about their behavior. This makes the group powerful like no other.

Self-empowerment comes through the embrace of authentic humility. The community becomes a safe space to confront ugly narcissism and the ongoing embrace of grief and loss. It is a place built upon cooperation, not comparison, or competition. It isn’t the common strength but the shared weaknesses that heals and promotes personal brilliance. In the context of shared weakness, men have set aside their judgment and anger toward a brother’s behavior and have extended compassion, identification, and care. The connection through the common bond of brokenness has cultivated excitement and rejoicing rather than threat regarding a brother’s strength and success. Shared weakness is the cornerstone of true community.

A 12-step community is a place to find your lost voice. Addicts lose their way and their voice to destructive addictive urges. A community of those who struggle with addiction becomes a place where an addict can find their lost voice. It is a place where you can sleuth the difference between aggression and assertion, victim and victimizer, and dependence from vulnerable interdependence in relationships. Finding your voice in community unlocks the door to going deep within your own reserve of brilliance and becoming your own guru rather than looking for one outside of yourself. Grace Lee Boggs said it right when she wrote, “You are the leader you have been looking and waiting for.” 

Healthy community offers support when you are needy. It requires that you ask for what you need and face the fear of possible rejection and abandonment. This is the common compost that connects you to others with the possibility of giving birth to your own personal brilliance. There is no greater space to cultivate and realize the healing of personal brilliance than in the context of healthy community. Community contains the compost of accountability to do the work of carving consistency from everyday challenges that lead to healing and accessing your own personal brilliance.