You Are Stronger Than You Think

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

There is a ton of uncertainty with tragic circumstances that rage throughout the world. There is the horrible Middle East conflict in the war between Israel and Hamas where thousands of innocent people have been and are being killed every day. There is famine in Sudan.  There is instability in Syria because of the thousands killed and many more displaced as a result of civil war.  There are regimes that perpetrate oppression and domination over disempowered people all around the world. 

Then there are growing tensions that exist in our own country that create political division and disunity. Family betrayal and break up render children displaced and highly stressed with chronic anxiety. 

How do you tell innocent children about tragic events?

How do you tell children the truth and make it bearable?

A story was told of an author of children’s books who stood in front of an audience of elementary children and shared the sad story of her father abandoning her when she was at a very young age. She said that she suffered other chronic physical illnesses and was heartbroken because her father had left. To her, at that time, life seemed overwhelming and impossible to go on. Yet, she did. 

After her address, during the exchange of questions and answers, one of the children stood and said, “You were a lot stronger than you thought.”

As the children were dismissed and were filing out of the auditorium, the author was in line saying her farewells when a young boy said to her, “I am living here with my mother, and my father is in California.  I did not know how I was going to make it until I heard your story.  And now you are OK. Maybe I will be OK.  Maybe I am stronger than I thought.”

Children learn truth by you facing your truth when things are bad. They know that things will be OK when you walk alongside them while they experience suffering. They can face truth. When you are vulnerable, cry with them and simply present in the existence of uncertainty.

You are more strong than you think. So are children. Strength comes from being seen and heard. When space is made to be noticed and validated then truth can be noticed and validated and not sugar-coated.

Walking alongside each other is the way to find a shortcut to the heart. It opens the awareness that everything around you is sentient. There is energy to be accessed from this reality. Thus, you are stronger than you thought!

It requires vulnerability to walk alongside another. At the end of life’s journey, there are important things to share with those you walked with. 

One is, “Thank You” for the energy, example of life, love, truth, conviction, and beliefs modeled. 

Two, ”I Love You.”

Three, “I forgive You.”

and Four, “Will you forgive me?”

Sometimes the journey in relationship life seems so difficult. Yet when you become capacious, creating space for you and others when you open your heart with vulnerability.  You don’t have all the answers. You don’t even know all the questions. Yet, in that space you know deep within your heart you are now stronger than you think.

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.

Intensity or Intimacy

The nature of addiction is to crave the escape that comes in the pursuit of a substance or a process high. It could be numbing out with drugs and alcohol—the adrenaline rush of something new like the risk of a new relationship, physical challenge, exotic adventure, or the rush of meeting a deadline at work. At first, the pursuit seems subtle, like the calming effect that a cup of coffee has to starting your day. Over time it roars like a lion and becomes a dominating organizing principle of everyday living. Someone addicted to nicotine cannot comprehend going through the day without lighting up, dipping or ending the day with a cigar. The entire day becomes organized around taking the edge off by engaging in nicotine. Some addicts describe having an intimate relationship with their addictive behavior.

One of my sons told me a story about doing a rigorous hike in the desert with a couple of friends in the summertime when it was way too hot. After hiking a great distance, they were sweaty, exhausted, and stopped to take a break. He reached for his water bottle to quench his thirst and find relief from the heat. His two friends reached for a cigarette and with sweat streaming down their face found relief with nicotine and later took a drink of water. 

Addiction response can be extreme and radical. Some of the most intense people I know are addicts. Do you know a workaholic who has literally slept at their office? NFL football coaches have been known to work all day and sleep in their office. The rush that comes from getting prepared for the next game can be intense. For a workaholic, pushing for completion and fanatically reaching to meet a deadline can be powerful and consuming. Stories of addicts fiercely lusting for a hit and radically moving heaven and earth together to satisfy a craving are replete. 

Intensity or Intimacy? Addicts confuse intensity with intimacy. Intimacy can be understood as a close personal open heart connection with self and another person. Many people refer to sexual intercourse as intimate. Of course, this can be true. However, compulsive sexual behavior is often not intimate. At times, the insatiable drive to be with another person is the furthest experience from true intimacy. It has been described by some that the intense desire to be close to another is like wanting to be inside the other person’s skin. There is a craving for another that is more about neediness than intimacy. The need is intense.

Addicts become disconnected from their feelings. They are poor at managing moments of emptiness. An addict will often seek to fill the emptiness with chaos and addictive behavior. Emptiness and loneliness trigger addicts to fill in the hole of their lives with drugs and alcohol and other compulsive behaviors. Most addicts create a cocktail of adrenaline experience that can include substance, relationship pursuit, work intensity, exercise, food, and high-risk adventure. When one or more of these behaviors don’t do the trick, then they just go to the next combination in behavioral experiences. This response is described as addiction interaction behavior. The intensity of this daily cocktail experience can be mistaken for intimacy with self.  

Recently, a young man counseled with me about feeling extreme loneliness and depression from a recent relational breakup. He engaged in meditative silence and then shifted to extreme outdoor adventure. He stated that he felt very intimate with himself by testing his physical endurance. For sure, engaging physical endurance activities can be intimate. Yet, for this person, he came home to the same dilemma of intense loneliness and depression after the endurance adventure. Rather than embracing and grieving the loss, he had mistaken physical intensity for emotional intimacy. This is a common experience for addicts. 

Intimacy begins with an interpersonal connection. What is important is to carefully listen to your feelings. This requires slowing down and embracing the very emotion you would like to avoid. Intimacy demands that you be able to embrace discomfort. Knowing that you can feel uneasiness and sift and sort understanding and meaningfulness from this experience is necessary in order to meet the personal needs that exist underneath the uncomfortable emotion. This is fundamental to practicing intimacy. It begins with an inner connection with self before it can be extended to another. Many attempt to first connect with another believing this connection will help awaken feelings within. However, it is a precarious path that often leads to relational intensity being mistaken for relational intimacy. What is missing is the cultivation of interpersonal connection with your own feelings. Those feelings become lost with the intense hot pursuit of another person, substance, or experience. 

Intimacy requires that you be open and honest, first with self and then others. Emotional honesty demands that you be willing to embrace unwanted feelings. In the context of this embrace, you will find the pathway that leads to intimacy. The intimate discipline of sitting with your own feelings will spawn understanding and separation between emotional intimacy and emotional intensity in an addict’s relation to self and others.