recovery

Black and White choices in the Gray Zone of Recovery Living

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I have practiced recovery from addiction through the 12-steps for 34 years. I have worked through each step 10 different times. I utilize the steps every day of my life. That said, I know that recovery is not uniform. Some people I know who began recovery about the same time I did, no longer struggle with the cravings I do. I have listened to many who have testified about transforming their life in other ways than following the 12-steps. Some who met with me 30 years ago in 12-step groups disappeared and returned to acting out. I have had conversations with others who attended 12-step groups for a while and then stopped. They tell me that they got to a place where they no longer needed the steps to remain sober. They say they have not acted out in years. 

At times I wish that I was one of them. Yet, I am grateful for the serenity I have experienced through the diligent work I have done through the 12-steps. To be sure, recovery is a challenge for all, regardless of the path chosen. It is helpful to recognize that people choose different pathways to experience recovery. 

Through the years of my recovery, I have noticed that there is a certain gray zone about recovery. Every addict does the steps in different ways. Also, there are specific things that I can do and remain sober but you cannot. For example, some alcoholics could never have lunch in a bar without the overwhelming temptation to drink. Others report not experiencing overwhelming temptation while friends drink alcohol in their presence while they sip on a soft drink. Some porn addicts report they can watch a racy sex scene with their partner without acting out sexually while others advise that watching would constitute relapse. There would be no way the scene would be compatible with their sobriety. 

Many alcoholics in recovery remain dependent upon nicotine and smoke like a chimney. Nicotine kills more people in America than alcohol each year. Some sex addicts put the use of pornography in high-risk middle circle behavior, but not designated acting out. Some sex addicts in a committed relationship think of flirting with another person as high risk but not acting out. Sometimes addicts honestly have made these conclusions while at other times addicts are humoring addictive rationale. Often, seasoned therapists and veteran addicts in recovery can detect compromise and flirting with disaster that is presented by another addict. In 12-step meeting rooms there is a saying “If everywhere you go smells like shit, maybe it’s time to check your shoes”. There’s a lot of wisdom in phrases like this to guide addict behavior. 

However, there is also gray zone behavior that addicts must take personal responsibility to sift and sort to determine what makes sense in individual recovery. It’s true one size does not fit all. There is a myriad of questions that addicts must embrace with responsibility. Your answer may not be the same response as someone else. What constitutes acting out must be your own definition, not your sponsor’s, your wife’s, or anyone else. That said, how you define bottom-line behaviors is not the only behavioral list you will need to be accountable to. Your partner will have expectations that you will need to consider in order to preserve integrity in the relationship. The two lists will need to be considered as separate stand-alone lists. 

You will need to determine what you are willing to disclose to your partner and other accountability people about your history of acting out in your addiction. I am an advocate for full disclosure to partners. That said, where the rubber meets the road, it is seldom that a complete exhaustive disclosure is ever given. This sounds contradictory. Yet, many addicts don’t remember the thousands of behaviors they have committed, even though each is egregious and heartbreaking. 

How much you share or what your partner wants to hear lies in a gray zone. This means that disclosure is a dynamic and not a static share. Details that are important in disclosure for one partner may vary from what is important to be shared to another. Some addicts are incapable of telling the whole complete truth because they have damaged their brains with chemical abuse or other hurtful behavior. Sometimes addicts don’t share the whole truth because they are not ready to take recovery seriously. The same can be true for a partner. However, what must be considered in partner assessment is the overwhelming trauma triggered by addict behavior. Partner behavior is often a reaction to the trauma inflicted by addict behavior. These concerns lie in a gray zone and must be individually evaluated before making assumptions about what must be done for healing.

Here are a few considerations that can be helpful in determining your black-and-white response to gray zone recovery living.

1. When you are early in recovery, decide to do whatever your sponsor suggests. Your best thinking got you stuck where you are at in addiction. It’s time to practice humility and surrender your ego to recovery. In time, all of your decision-making will be handed back to you. But first, practice listening and doing what your sponsor and others who have more sobriety that you suggest.

2. Live in consultation. Addicts are self-absorbed and take up too much space. A first step toward long-term recovery is humbly admitting that you need help in all aspects of living. Develop the habit of consulting with other addicts in recovery. There is a saying in 12-step work that “If 8 people tell you that you have a tail, the least check your ass in the mirror!” The emphasis is don’t make important recovery or life decisions on your own without checking in with those who have been through what you are experiencing. The interchange will help you make black-and-white choices and establish your own limits in recovery.

3. Be accountable. People struggle with accountability. It’s one thing to ask for help and quite another to be accountable for the decision you made about the consult you sought. Manage uncertain gray zone recovery experience with accountability for your behavior. Your decision about recovery may be different than what I would do, but accountability brings black and whiteness to what you say is an important value to you. 

    People have black-and-white convictions about diet, exercise, and many other aspects of living. Life is complicated and the pathways to recovery are many. The gray zones in recovery require personalized black-and-white decisions. To live an empowered life in recovery you will need to make black and white decisions that express your values and remain true to your heart in the presence of gray zone experiences. This journey always depends upon consultation from others and accountability for the behaviors that you commit to in your heart.

    Wake Up Calls: The Reality of Relapse in Recovery

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    Thirty-four years ago I was a neophyte in the recovery world. Determined to overcome my addiction, I did everything my sponsor told me to do. I read every book I could get my hands on and listened to audio tapes that would help me stay sober. I did everything my therapist would suggest. I was all in. On one occasion, I engaged in regressive therapy to resolve painful past events. The therapist was a specialist in uncovering unresolved painful events in life.

    The session itself was very emotionally charged and plunged into significant past emotional trauma. When the session was over, I recall leaving the therapeutic setting feeling pretty raw emotionally. I was experiencing a lot of vulnerability. Even though I had established a significant length of time in sober living, I found myself in a kind of trance cruising and searching for a way to act out in my addiction. What I learned was that uncovering pain from past traumatic experiences creates increased vulnerability and a high risk toward relapse unless sufficient self-care is administered before and after trauma work. I learned to practice bookending my therapy sessions with connection and accountability with support people before and after therapy sessions. 

    For sure, relapse is not necessary for addicts in recovery. Yet, learning to address lapse or relapse behaviors is imperative toward building long-term recovery. There are high-risk zones and pitfalls in recovery that addicts must be alert to avoid the backsliding into old destructive behaviors that are common for many. 

    Wake-up calls are life experiences that take addicts by the nap of the neck and shake them with the reality that they are facing major relapse unless something dramatically changes quickly. I hear wake-up stories all the time. It may be a sex addict in recovery who shared that he was on his way to acting out with an escort when his car broke down on the way. He decided to call his sponsor instead of following through with his destructive act out. As a result, he determined to re-engage his program. He was saved from the slippery slide of relapse by way of a wake-up call in a random mechanical failure. I have listened to alcoholics and drug addicts share similar near misses around relapse. For one getting lost trying to find the location of a dealer and the other who drove to her old neighborhood bar only to learn that it had closed because of a COVID outbreak, represented indelible near-miss wake up calls that are often shared in recovery circles.

    For sure, cravings for the dopamine hit that comes from addictive urges is an everyday possibility for addicts in recovery. Engaging in addictive act out can be like turning on a fire hose of dopamine to the brain of an addict, triggering euphoric response. The level of dopamine rises with anticipation and spikes when addicts act on their addictive urge. Living without the hit is tough. Usually, an addict will feel worse before he feels better. As a result, many addicts will live on the edge of their recovery program and bash boundaries around their addiction behavior. There is a certain rush just being near an addictive environment. Thus, the old adage “if you hang around the barbershop, you’re gonna get a haircut”. Inevitably, unattended high-risk behaviors will cascade you over the falls of addictive behavior. 

    Wake-up call experiences in life can be utilized to help get your attention before relapse.

    Here are a few considerations:

    1. Roll up the welcome mat to addictive behavior. If you don’t want to slip stay away from slippery places. Often I listen to sex addicts share that they are hit on constantly. One will tell me that I was minding my own business and she came up to me and began flirting and throwing herself at me. What was I to do? Or I have heard complaints like I was sitting alone and he just came to me with warmth and a smile so I had no choice but to be nice to him. It’s almost as if helplessly they are unable to prevent these high-risk people and situations from happening. It’s not as if sex addicts are the most drop-dead gorgeous people who have to tolerate being hit on. Most people don’t live a life where they are constantly badgered by sexual invites from others. Substance addicts complain the same way. Everywhere I go I am being offered a drink or asked if I want to score, some will say. The answer to these challenges can be unraveled by taking an attitude inventory. First, am I serious and committed to ending the addictive behavior? If so, then eliminate the high-risk behavior by rolling up the welcome mat. Stop communicating availability in terms of the environment you hang out, the conversations you have with others, and the energy about the addictive behavior that you communicate. Simply put, shut down the energy that you are available for sexual intrigue if you are a sex addict and turn away from addictive environments while spurning the encouragement of those who would invite you to use or sit in high-risk scenarios. When you eliminate slippery places you likely will not slip. 

    2. Decide you are going to be all in with recovery. Seriously embrace the AA saying “Half measure avail us nothing. We ask for his care with complete abandon”. Many addicts who attend 12-step meetings enjoy the community and gain from the insights shared. Fewer take the insights seriously toward life transformation. There is a difference between attending 12-step meetings and being all-in. Following through with boundaries, commitments, and program work requires an addict to abandon half-hearted attempts at recovery tasks. All in is a plunge experience. It is like cliff jumping. You put yourself into a position so that when you take the first step there is no turning back because of your complete abandonment to whatever it takes. When you compromise, make excuses, make commitments, and don’t follow through, you exemplify half-measures that never work. It’s like getting a prescription from your doctor and drinking the water while leaving the pills for treatment on the table. If you are blaming others for your downfall, keeping secrets about your thought and behavior life, and giving negative voices free rent in your head, this is the evidence that you are not willing to go to any lengths to create the sober life you want. In the presence of many new approaches and technology for healing, the only way to emotionally grow yourself up and address addiction will be through complete abandonment in your recovery program. 

    3. Wake-up calls are never heard when you are stubbornly stuck in refusing to accept life as it is in the present moment. Denying the reality of what is in your life is a setup for relapse even when there are wake-up calls ringing all around you. There are many experiences about recovery that are not pleasant. The discomfort of real consequences from addictive behavior can be an intrusive reality that is shoved in your face with no reprieve. Loss of job, family, and esteem can be repressive. The whirlwind of addictive behavior always includes unfair treatment and unfair judgment. Consequences and restrictions can seem overwhelming. Yet, you will not find peace and sobriety until you can accept the limitations and implications of your addiction behavior. “This too will pass” will only be true for you through surrender when you can concentrate less on what needs to be changed in the world around you, and more about what needs to be changed within you and your attitudes. Acceptance is an age-old process that paves the way toward long-term sobriety. Without it, the phone will ring off the wall and you will never answer the wake-up call in recovery.

    4. Wake-up calls are a reminder to understand the underlying conditions that come from unresolved family-of-origin issues that have been incompletely addressed. Questions like “After so much time in recovery sobriety, why did I so quickly reach for my addictive behavior”? “Why do I struggle so much with behavior and attitudes that sabotage closeness to people I love”? “Why do I procrastinate facing the fear of my childhood or addressing Step 4 work”?are all about the underlying conditions of unresolved family of origin issues. Relapse is about losing who you are and forfeiting your potential for who you are meant to be. Relapse gives you the opportunity to claim lessons from the past and to reclaim your truth. If those underlying conditions aren’t treated, the return of those symptoms may cause you intense discomfort that can trigger you to go back to using. That’s the primary reason there is such a high rate of relapse among people who have become dependent on addictive behavior. It has less to do with the addiction and more to do with the original causes that created the dependency. There is a wake-up call for each of us who are tempted to walk only to the first oasis in the desert and camp out for the rest of our days. The wake-up call is to go the distance all the way through the desert to the other side. That other side is the peace that comes to those courageous enough to address the unresolved family of origin issues that trigger the addiction.

    5. Wake-up calls require that you learn to bushwhack with accountability. Bushwhacking is a term that applies to a way of hiking in the wilderness. There is no trail. You just go—through thickets, over boulders, aimlessly moving into the adventure of the woods and great outdoors. It is a very uncomfortable way to travel. It may be a shortcut or may not be. What is involved is an adventure and exploration of the forest. Recovery growth engages a form of bushwhacking. Going deep always includes an uncharted course to follow that embraces getting out of your comfort zone. It calls for you to acknowledge your inconsistency. It requires that you own your incongruence. It demands that you admit your hypocrisy. It summons you to submit to the accountability of community to draw you back from these human frailties to be true to your heart. This is the wake-up call that curates relapse prevention and cultivates the character of long-term sobriety.  

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

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

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

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

    It has been my experience that when you are genuine, you feel and even fit better in your skin. Like the velveteen rabbit—the “real” never rubs off. A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person hyper-vigilant from a fear of not measuring up. It triggers the practice of impression management. When you ground yourself in your authentic True Self, you find your true identity.

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

    To accomplish this mindset, you will need to manage paradox. While congruent living is the goal, the reality is that everyone is inconsistent, incongruent, and hypocritical in some ways. I have not known an addict in recovery who has always been consistent with every recovery task. The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition.

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

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

    At a 12-Step meeting, once you tell everyone your deepest dark shameful secret which is received with support and acceptance from those attending. It is difficult to return and tell the same people that the behavior you committed to not doing— you did again. There is a fear of rejection and embarrassment even though you are in a room full of addicts. Then, if you have had weeks or years of sobriety, become a sponsor or a trusted servant in the meetings— there is even greater fear of rejection if you need to honestly disclose that you have been acting out against your values. It is difficult to tell on yourself. Yet, it is necessary to establish congruency. Not just the confession, but what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to get re-centered and live a sober life. This must be done to find your true authentic self. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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. 

    Things We Need to Talk About But Don’t Touch

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    “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” —T.S. Eliot

    This is true about recovery. It is such a repetitive cyclical experience in so many ways. There are many portals to explore and understand about addictive behavior. Open one door and it seems to lead to the next. You learned how to end your addictive behavior and stop the out-of-control train going down the track. Desperation opened the door to a belief in a Higher Power that restored you to sanity. Yet, stubborn willfulness blocked the decision to turn your will over to the care of that Higher Power. It brought you back to where you started with your addictive mindset dominating your behavior, and you repeated the same experience as before. Each time you repeat, the pattern becomes an opportunity to know yourself for the first time. 

    The recovery experience invites you to talk about things that you don’t touch. There are secrets. You are invited to open your deepest darkest hidden experience and expose it to the light of day. You are encouraged to get emotionally naked about reality, often in the presence of people you don’t know that well or for that long. 

    The exploration doesn’t stop with the addictive behavior. The challenge is to explore all of our behaviors and our relationships. Some 12-step groups insist that you only relate to one identified addiction during your time to share. I have always found this limiting. Recovery is pervasive in its journey of research and examination. It requires that you turn over every stone and inquire, with curiosity, pathways you have not explored. Many in recovery choose not to open doors about intimacy and relationships. They limit their 12-step journey to remaining sober from their addiction. They know a lot about staying sober and less about intimacy and building relationships. 

    Addicts talk about things with their sponsors and others but often don’t open their hearts to their partners. They become good about sharing vulnerability with those who are distant. They give good advice about how to be emotionally open but remain closed and distant at home. There is so much that needs to be talked about that is never touched at home. 

    Feelings like stress, anxiety, and fear build on the inside. An addict becomes lonely and seeks escape from discomfort. H/She sits with a craving to escape through their drug of choice. It is powerful because it works for a while. The pain is so great and the relief is so powerful. 

    Your partner also has anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness building within. They also want to escape. It could be through their addiction. It often takes the form of a cocktail of other experiences like busyness, electronic games, children’s activities, running errands, or exercise. The emptiness in the relationship builds as both partners avoid what needs to be talked about but is never touched. 

    An addict may talk about the experience in a 12-step community. Yet, if it is never discussed with your partner, the 12-step group becomes a lifelong partner of triangulation. You can avoid opening your heart to the partner you should be talking with by sharing instead with a third party. The void between you and that person grows as you lament to your 12-step group. This becomes particularly sad when that person is your romantic partner. 

    To stop the fantasy about your addiction you need to tell on yourself to your partner who, in turn,  needs to talk to you about how they try to escape from their discomfort. When partners do this with each other, the void between them shrinks and the feelings of discomfort give way to the richness of emotional intimacy.  No third-party relationship has ever been able to replace the richness of intimacy that is created when you touch what needs to be shared with your partner about the truth of who you are. Each time you talk about what you don’t want to touch in a relationship you will arrive where you began and know the place for the first time. 

    The Way of the Windigo

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    The Windigo is a legendary monster of the Anishinaabe native American people. It
    is the villain of a tale told on freezing nights in the North Woods. As the legend is
    told, during cold freezing nights you can feel the Windigo monster lurking behind
    you as you walk through the woods. It is a being in the shape of an outsized man, ten
    feet tall, with frost-white hair hanging from its shaking body. With arms like tree
    trunks, and feet as big as snowshoes, it travels easily through the blizzards of the
    hungry time, stalking its terrified traveler. The hideous stench of its carrion breath
    poisons the clean scent of snow as it pants behind. Yellow fangs hang from its
    mouth that is raw where it has chewed away its lips from hunger. Most telling of all,
    its heart is made of ice.

    Windigo stories were told around campfires to scare children into safe behavior.
    Windigos are not born, they are made. There are human beings who have become
    cannibal monsters. Their bite transforms victims into cannibals.

    Addicts, too, evolve into cannibals of life experience like the Windigo. They never
    get enough of what they really don’t want. Addictive craving pushes them to care
    more about satisfying their own addictive urge than anything else.

    The truth is that there is a Windigo nature in everybody. We all need to learn to
    recoil from the greedy part of ourselves. There is a dark and light side in
    everyone’s life. It is important to recognize the power in the dark side of life and
    to learn not to feed it. Habits that become overindulgent and self-destructive
    represent the Windigo nature. Seeking out to fulfill lustful desires for possessions
    and acquisition, not for the need but for greed, triggers the Windigo nature to
    flourish. Ultimately, your heart will become more like ice and you will begin to
    distance yourself with indifference to other people’s experience of life. The trials
    and tribulations of others become simple facts and you become less connected to
    others around you.

    Compulsive overconsumption fuels the Windigo monster that lives within each of
    us. People live their lives with the fallacy that human consumption has no
    consequences. Indulgent living that was once considered wasteful is now
    considered a success by many. A consumption-driven mindset is presented as a high-quality lifestyle but, it eats away at the core being within. People never get enough.
    There is a craving for more and more. It is like a black hole in the stomach that
    never gets filled.

    If you are not careful you will allow the “market” to define what you value. The
    common good depends upon lavish lifestyles that enrich the seller while
    bankrupting the soul and the resources of the earth.

    It is helpful to assess the Windigo thinking that exists within your life experience.
    Addicts who have learned to come to terms with their own limits are signposts to
    the rest of the world to manage the Windigo monster that lives within.

    Ten Components That Cultivate Cherish in the Presence of Relational Betrayal

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post

    Cherish is a dynamic in relationship life that adds richness and protects the integrity of love between two people. Cherish promotes protecting and caring for something or someone in a very loving way. You hear about athletes who cherish an old coach who has long since retired. The athlete now cherishes the memories and lessons learned. Memories of old mentors who have passed away are cherished by all of us. Cherish means that we hold something or someone dear to our hearts. Historians cherish the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and other valued historic documents. Olympic athletes cherish the opportunity to participate with great hope for success. The word cherish represents magic that adds meaningfulness to romantic relationships. It is an important characteristic and life dynamic.

    Cherish can be drained from the experience of life. Disappointment can stop the flow of cherish in a promising job when you are overlooked. Selfish living can kill the cherish that exists in a community. Abandonment and neglect can choke the cherish from the dynamic of any relationship. Yet, nothing destroys cherish in a relationship like betrayal. 

    Gone is the protection and the care for the integrity of love in a relationship. Past memories of cherish are now sullied with deceit and lies. Meaningfulness in a betrayed relationship is demolished with chaos and confusion from gaslighting. Hope is destroyed with dupe and double cross.

    Relational betrayal is a societal travesty. The basics of how men learn to treat women begin with role-modeling in the home between mother and father. When dad treats mom as if she were a utility (responsible for all the domestic duties and for providing good sex) then it carries forward in the lives of the boys into adulthood. The seed for sexual objectification are planted in the minds of children by the way dad objectifies mom and how mom colludes with being a utility. 

    Objectification eradicates cherish. When one partner betrays another, objectification is the culprit that permeates the thoughts and behavior of the betrayer. The grass seems greener somewhere else. 

    When betrayal is exposed through disclosure, the betrayer most often will want to fix the problem with an apology and move on. Yet, broken hearts don’t heal this way. It becomes a feeble attempt to restore cherish in the relationship.

    At the moment of disclosure, both partners are unable to move forward toward rebuilding trust with a simple apology. Trauma ignites a systems failure. Unpacking broken trust and gaslighting truth requires a detailed healing process. Honesty moving forward from disclosure about every behavior is necessary. It is important for the partner to experience this reality from the betrayer.

    When both parties in a relationship ignore this understanding the efforts made by the betrayer to fix the problem will most likely be unsuccessful. A betrayed partner can heal when their experience is validated and their truth is respected and supported. Those who betray must offer this support toward healing. Betrayers who rigorously commit to honesty in all aspects of life in recovery create a healing environment toward rebuilding trust with their wounded partner. Working with an experienced therapist who has been trained in working with betrayal can be helpful. Partners who attend a self-help group for betrayed partners will steady their journey toward healing. Addicts who try to avoid their partner’s pain will slow the healing process in relational recovery.

    Here are ten suggestions to consider around healing betrayal in a relationship and restoring cherish:

    1. Accelerate your own commitment to your own healing. Whether you are an addict or a partner stay in your own lane. An addict must focus on doing everything possible to heal themselves, getting clear about why they cheated, with a commitment to radical interventions to prevent betrayal behavior in the future. Many betrayers get lost in finger-pointing, doing whatever their partner wants them to do, while avoiding what is necessary for their healing. So, take your eyes off your injured partner and concentrate on restoring your values.

    2. Practice telling on yourself. To heal betrayed trust, each person in the relationship must understand that they will not be perfect in recovery. Mistakes will be made by both parties. It doesn’t mean that addictive relapse is automatic or inevitable but it does mean that both parties are human and backsliding on commitments made will exist along the journey toward healing. It will be important to tell on yourself and commit to making amends. Any time you hurt your partner, make amends. It all begins when you tell on yourself. Avoid being defensive or explaining your behavior and actions. You do not need to clarify your intentions. Simply acknowledge and admit that your partner is hurting. Tell on yourself when you have done something that hurts the other person. 

    3. Practice not making assumptions. Making assumptions involves human error. You cannot know what you don’t know. Insecurity and shame accelerate the temptation to make assumptions. You can assume that your partner only sees you as disgusting. You can build an entire system of sabotage behaviors based on false assumptions you make about what your partner thinks of you. Intervene by stopping to check things out with an honest inquiry. Don’t bait your partner with hurtful behavior to repeat your false assumptions.

    4. Don’t personalize your partner’s behavior. Your partner’s response to healing is not about you. This may be hard to wrap your arms around but true nonetheless. Their behavior is about them and their pain. You may have hurt your partner with betrayal action, but, your partner will only heal when they are guided to embrace their pain and walk down that path toward healing. If you are the one who has betrayed, you will need to establish internal boundaries that help you detach from your partner’s healing. It’s not about you. What is about you is offering support and validation to your partner for your betrayal behavior. If the partner who has been betrayed becomes verbally, physically, and/or emotionally abusive, external boundaries will need to be established. Boundaries must have consequences to provide care for the person setting them, not to punish the other party. The strategy for healing is not that you become a pin cushion for your partner’s pain.

    5. Stop saying you’re sorry and validate. Sorry is a hollow word around betrayal behavior. So stop! Validation is about supporting your partner in pain with agreement and affirmation. “You are right, I was selfish, inconsiderate, and insensitive!” “I didn’t think of you and you have every right to be angry and hurt!” “I know you are hurting. How can I best support you right now?” These are compassionate and caring examples of validation that will require you to anchor yourself in the powerful adult that you are and can operate from in your relationship.

    6. Stop looking for a pat on the back from your partner as you work hard to maintain sobriety. If you are an addict, providing sobriety is a ground-zero expectation. Your partner did not commit to you thinking fidelity would be an added benefit. It’s assumed that you would preserve faithfulness. When you break your partner’s heart you cannot expect them to be your cheerleader. Your 12-step community and others must provide support at this level. 

    7. Know your partner’s love language and zero in on that behavior. Focus on being sensitive to what your betrayed partner needs from you. Making promises and giving your partner what you would want for comfort usually is not healing. However, when you focus on what is considerate and caring from their perspective, it can create emotional pain relief and soothing support.

    8. Ask for permission to express love to your partner in non-sexual ways. Taking the initiative to do nice things for your partner without first asking is often seen as inconsiderate when healing betrayal and building cherish. Doing what you think your partner needs without checking in with him or her is another way of taking up too much space. Asking for permission and framing it as “Would this be helpful to you” is a way of practicing dignity and respect that ultimately leads to healing.

    9. Pay attention to codependent responses while navigating through relational betrayal. Understandably, you want to please your hurting partner while both of you attempt to heal from betrayal behavior. However, when the primary motivation to do recovery is to satisfy your partner, it seldom works for the long haul. It is not sustainable. Sometimes the partner who was betrayed by an addict’s behavior wants to determine the particulars of an addict’s behavioral contract for sober living. This seldom works well. Oftentimes an addict will codependently abandon his or her truth in order to appease their betrayed partner. When this happens an addict often loses his or her way in recovery which ultimately leads to a relapse. Both addict and partner must cultivate healthy self-assertion regarding wants, needs, and expectations in the relationship. When this is not done a shallow recovery life is pockmarked with unhealthy codependent response. 

    10. Subconsciously, don’t make your partner your parent while recovering from destructive betrayal behavior. When betrayal is uncovered in a relationship, it is easy for the betrayed partner to put the betrayer in the basement of the relationship. Shame accelerates negative images and messages about the betrayer. This frequently triggers old pattern behaviors that resemble trying to gain approval from a parent early in life. A partner cannot be the other’s parent. Pleasing your partner from this framework of thought and behavior will never restore healthy intimacy. Recovery may trigger awareness that unresolved family-of-origin issues need to be addressed. When this is true, address it so that you can anchor healing that fosters equal loving care for yourself and your hurting partner.

    Rebuilding cherish in the appalling presence of infidelity and betrayal is a difficult undertaking. These ten suggestions are among many that can help make a healing difference as you navigate the treacherous waters of mending betrayal behavior.

    Stuck in Reactivity

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hangovers

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    Fred has been a recovering sex addict for 5 years. Sexual acting out used to be an organizing principle in his life. He woke up everyday thinking of numbing out with porn and hooking up with whoever he could find on the internet. It nearly cost him his family, his job, and even his life. One day an escort and her pimp robbed him of everything he had. At gunpoint, they forced him to go to his bank and withdraw $10,000 from his account. He was told that there was a gun pointed at his head throughout the entire bank transaction and would be killed if he did not bring them the exact amount. This was hitting bottom for Fred. He promised that if he escaped this predicament, he would seek help and change his lifestyle. And he did. He sought out a certified sex addiction therapist. He began going to 12-step meetings, worked the steps, changed his life, and experienced healing within and in his marriage and family. That was 5 years ago! 

    Moving forward he managed sexual addiction cravings with the tools that he had learned in therapy and 12-step groups. Things were headed in the right direction. Then COVID hit. He was laid off from his work and had to scramble, doing anything to pay the bills. There was a lot of stress and anxiety that persisted throughout the 2 years since the COVID lockdown. Eventually fatigue, stress, and anxiety wore him down. One night while driving home he pulled into the parking lot of a strip club, drank, and paid for several lap dances. The next morning he woke up with a hangover not only from the alcohol but from the reality that he surrendered all the vestiges of meaningful sobriety and serenity that he had accumulated in his recovery program the 5 years before. He was sick to his stomach, dulled with brain fog, and profound loneliness and emptiness. The emotional pain was indescribable. Alone, he screamed in despair. He was suffering from the hangover of relapse behavior. 
    Hangovers suck! Hangovers always deliver what they promise—headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, irritability, and other symptoms. Most people associate hangovers with drinking too much or other drug abuse. But, hangovers are the result of many behaviors. Other than its relationship to chemical abuse, the dictionary defines a hangover as something that remains from what is past. Its the letdown that follows great effort and excitement. Hangovers follow every act out and trigger further use of a substance or process.

    Every addict knows the pain of a hangover that follows an addictive behavior. Addicts who succumb to relapse are highly susceptible to repeating the destructive behavior until the old addictive lifestyle is once again in place. It happens amazingly fast! Hangovers play a significant role in the reconstitution of addiction. Surprised by the relapse, addicts fall victim to the power of shame and the staggering emotional pain that is part of the hangover aftermath. 

    Most addicts relapse in their attempts to gain control of their addiction. Listed below are suggestions to consider in working through the hangover that accompanies relapse behavior.

    1. Get out of harm’s way. You may have to drag yourself away but don’t let the bus of addiction run over you repeatedly with added relapse behavior. Call someone in recovery. The risk of further addictive behavior increases exponentially on the heels of a hangover. Loneliness, shame, depression, failure, etc are intense feelings that overwhelm and tempt you to medicate with addictive behavior. You must take the power away from the junkie worm with a radical behavioral pattern interruption. Examples include going to a 12-step meeting, calling a recovery friend (even in the middle of the night), throwing your keys down a storm sewer to keep you from driving under the influence, or whatever you need to do to remove yourself from harm’s way.

    2. Surround yourself with support. When you relapse, shame wants to force you into isolation. Rather than isolate, you must insulate yourself with people who you know love you, understand, and will support you no matter what. Addicts in recovery who engage in a 12-step meeting with openness and vulnerability create connections that are helpful during a time of crisis in their recovery. It is critical to reach out to other addicts in recovery when you face relapse. You will falter. Create a community that will be there and help you restore yourself to sanity and centered living.

    3. Practice sitting with the pain that accompanies relapse failure. No matter what you do after a relapse, you cannot escape the pain of the hangover. You can mitigate its effects with self-care and reconnecting with your program. That said, relapse always produces intense emotional pain and disappointment. Rather than try to escape, which might increase the possibility of relapse, practice accepting and leaning into the emotional pain. Leaning into the pain of relapse differs from choosing to wallow in the failure of relapse which quickly becomes a way to escape and avoid doing the next right thing in self-care. It hampers a mature response to failure. Leaning into the pain is accepting what happened and moving forward with the next right recovery steps toward re-centering yourself in a healthy life balance. The good news is that the hangover does wear off in time.

    4. Divorce yourself from the behavior. You are not your behavior. You will have to condition yourself during this moment of discouragement and shame. Put the shame on the behavior and not your sense of self. Separating the behavior from your personhood will help you nurture compassion for yourself and those you hurt with your destructive behavior. There is no greater prevention for further relapse than compassion and empathy.

    5. Learn from every relapse failure. While you are not a failure, you can learn something about yourself that can cement future sobriety in every failed experience. The lessons you glean from your failed experience are the gold you create to fulfill your recovery destiny. Allow yourself to be a mistake-making person. Take away the treasure of wisdom from each mistake before you throw away the rind of failed behavior.

    The loneliness and emptiness that is core to the experience of relapse hangover paralyze many addicts who have relapsed. The way through the hangover is to fix your eyes on re-centering your vision of recovery. Move through relapse behavior by anchoring your heart with actions of recovery practice. The hangover will wear off provided you do the necessary self-care.