self-awareness

The Unencumbered Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does Believing in Who You Are Differ From Believing You Can Do Great Things?

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“None of us are defined by our worst actions that we have done.” — Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

“Nor are we defined by the worst things that have happened to us.” —KW 

I have been privileged to work with individuals who have demonstrated extreme self-confidence and belief in being able to achieve great accomplishments in their personal and professional lives. Some have accessed confidence and belief to create massive financial success while others have become elite in their professional sport, ability to entertain, or experiences of political power. They have engaged in visualization skills and affirmation to fulfill their goals. They were masterful in their achievements. 

However, there is a remarkable number of those who have achieved world-renowned feats who admittedly state they have less belief in who they are separate from what they do.  Some have even disclosed that they would be lost separate from what they do.  In other words, their professional craft and achievements define who they are. 

How bout you? Do you know who you are separate from what you do? Do your achievements define you? If so, then you have created a hamster wheel affect for your life. You will need to do more to keep from being less. 

There will never be a time when enough achievements will create fulfillment. You will never experience a sense of completion or enduring satisfaction because you will need to keep running for more and more. It’s the nature of the hamster wheel driven by your identification that who you are is what you do. Or, you will only know to identify yourself by what you did in the past or what you are planning to do tomorrow. 

It is not uncommon for those who find their identity in what they do, to feel a great sense of emptiness and despair immediately after performing a great feat. I have heard several share that their deepest darkness happens when they are off stage and alone after performing. Some have even shared that it has been a huge trigger to act out with their drug of choice while others have indicated vulnerability to suicidal ideation. 

Identifying who you are other than the results of what you do or will do requires that you have a sense of presence in the here and now with an emphasis upon “being”. This requires that you be able to sit with what is and make meaningfulness from it. 

It suggests that you are able to separate what you do from who you are. It can be scary. You learn to focus on meaningfulness by simply being you separate from what you do. 

When you are all about the results of what you do then the idea of coming home to yourself and sitting with your feelings, thoughts and presence is frustrating and likely confusing. 

Yet, it is necessary to detach from the results of what you do. Even, when success bombards your world and seems to flow freely. Eventually, you get to a point of realization that you cannot control the end result. It is beyond you! 

But, the alternative to the detachment of results is to embrace uncertainty and all of its unwanted feelings and thoughts. Not a very attractive alternative. However, when you practice this free fall in life experience you encounter unparalleled freedom. You learn that uncertainty and freedom go together. Eventually, you discover that unwanted feelings subside or become transformed into the magic of gratitude and other feelings of peace. You experience the unconditional confidence of going down with all the feelings of discomfort knowing that you will rise again with the awareness of freedom to be who you are.

This is no small feat. When this is practiced both praise and criticism received for the things you do is recognized as an imposter to the real you. 

Here are considerations to anchor your identity to who you are rather than what you do.

1. Know the values of your heart and don’t betray them. Be more concerned about being true to those values and less concerned about successful results. 

2. Affirm that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. For many this sound like too much fluff. Many would want their result to speak for who they are. The paradox is that when you know who you are before an endeavor, the results do not determine their essence. You will not let an outcome define you. You will embrace all of yourself- the good, the bad, and the ugly. You will understand that life is a tapestry that weaves the sweet with bitterness and triumph with tragedy. No victory will add to this reality and no defeat will take away from it. This reality must be etched in stone that exists within your heart. 

3. Create a list of affirmations about your being, not what you are good at doing. Religiously bathe yourself in them every day as mental hygiene in the same way you take care of your physical hygiene. This is often overlooked. Endless practice prevents most people from realizing their destiny. To know who you are you must feed yourself with the clarity that separates being from doing. Give yourself permission to be a mistake-making person, the only kind that lives on this earth.  Be the one who takes something meaningful from every mistake into your future. This is an endless practice. 

4. You won’t understand your sense of self from a distance. You will need to be willing to embrace going deep within to know your being. For most this is scary. Socrates stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. You must be willing to do the uncomfortable. it requires intentionality. Sitting with challenging emotions and understanding their message to you about who you are requires persistence and tenacity which many prefer to avoid. 

5. You will need to be courageous as you embrace your being. You will need to make a decision to be true to yourself when everyone around you is pressuring you to be different. You must be brave, anchoring your identity in your being. You will be tempted to lose yourself in what you do. There will be failure but you must bring yourself back to center. As Maya Angelou wrote in her poem Still I Rise, “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

    When you learn to believe in who you are as a stand alone belief, what you do or how much you do will pale in comparison to the uncovered brilliance that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. This truth about being is a stand-alone truth that will stand the test of the ages. 

    Who Shortchanged Me and How Do I Get My Change Back?

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    My mom died when she was 99. One of the last statements she uttered as she gazed at my sister was “You know I killed my sister!” Over the past nine years of her life, she was decimated by Alzheimer’s. Slowly the lights went out and she did not recognize anyone during her final hours.

    When my mom was 9, she played with lit candles in a backyard shed with her little sister Aileen, age 6. The wind caught the candle flame which ignited Aileen’s dress and within an instant, she was engulfed in flames. My mom took Aileen by the hand and ran with her toward the house. Their mother, seeing what was happening from the kitchen window, raced toward them, ripped off a sheet from the clothesline, and rolled her torched little girl to the ground, putting out the flames. Skin fell from her body. She was rushed to the hospital where she spent two weeks. Her mom took her out of the hospital for home care. However, she died at home from gangrene poisoning. Her little body was placed in a casket in the home, a custom observed during that day in time.

    The experience was so traumatic that my grandmother insisted that everyone sleep in the backyard. It was her way of pacifying the immense pain she felt from the horrific event. The tragedy occurred in August and they slept in the backyard till mid-November. Grandmother blamed herself for the death because she took the child out of the hospital too soon. She never talked about it for the rest of her life. My mom was convinced it was her fault for playing with the candles. No one ever sat down to process with her as a 9-year-old what happened. From that day forward they both blamed themselves, never discussing their false guilt with the other.

    To get the smile of approval from her mother, my mom became a great baseball player, barnstorming throughout the Midwest in a well-known women’s league. This worked until it didn’t. She fell in love with my dad and married him during the middle of a road trip. Their elopement was unapproved by her parents. She fell out of favor with them.

    My mom discovered religion and became extremely zealous with her faith for the rest of her life. I always believed that her intense desire to show love for God was in part a make-up for the lack of approval she felt from her parents. This lack of emotional validation was passed down to the next generation. I certainly felt a sense of being one-down from my mom’s folks—my grandparents. Likely, I was carrying my mom’s shame without knowing it.

    My dad had his own unfulfilled developmental needs that he brought to the marriage. Both were emotionally shortchanged and throughout their lives never recognized the emotional shortchange that happened to them from their parents. They certainly had no idea how to address the deficit or to effectively get the change back. The emotional deprivation was transferred to the next generation which included me and all my siblings.

    At the end of my mother’s life, she was only able to recall the shameful guilt she carried throughout her life. For her, seeking her mother’s approval, and God’s forgiveness, was never enough to rid her of the shame and guilt she carried from the tragic accident that occurred when she was very young.

    My mom’s story is not so unique. Most of us do not get through our childhood unscathed. Metaphorically, our early childhood developmentally resembles the holes in a chunk of Swiss cheese when those needs are left unmet. The developmental needs of a child are many. When they are not met an emotional pool of pain is created that must be drained. When it is not drained it builds and eventually splashes out of the pool into destructive behaviors that sabotage relational intimacy.

    It becomes an intimacy disability that can take the form of argumentativeness, addictive behavior, narcissism, and much more. Through the stages of development, the child becomes emotionally stymied. Later, when these needs are inadequately addressed, children grow into adults who respond with the mindset of an adolescent or younger in relationship dynamics. In short, responses that worked as a child do not work as an adult.

    People tend to try to fill up the inside holes and emotional vacuum with a cocktail of outside pursuits. To be loved and accepted people might seek achievement, popularity, sexual relationships, addictive substances, and countless other experiences in an attempt to fill in what is missing. The attempts become destructive because the unmet needs can only be met within and not from the outside. The many attempts to fill in the holes that exist on the inside through outside validation and experience trigger one to be like a child who cannot get enough sugar. It is necessary to develop the wise mind adult within each person in order to address the neediness that exists because of the unmet developmental need that exists within.

    So, the first question about who shortchanged me must be addressed. To answer this question it is necessary to look back to our relationships with our family of origin. Soren Kierkegaard, the philosopher wrote that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. Examining our relationships in our family of origin is not about looking for someone to blame. Rather, it is about seeking understanding which uncovers ways in which you take responsibility to address the unmet needs in a healthy adult way. When you recognize who shortchanged you emotionally, you can then focus on getting the change back.

    The late John Bradshaw used to say that we have 25,000 hours of parental introjects by the time we become an adult. That is a lot of parental tapes that influence how we behave, how we respond to others, and what we say to ourselves. Your parents are like you, imperfect. Some parents were egregious in their lack of parenting skills. Some were extremely abusive. All parents fail to meet every need in a healthy way. It’s the result of a condition identified as being human. There are no perfect parents.

    In order to recognize the shortchange, you will need to take your parents off the pedestal. By necessity, every child puts their parents on a pedestal. To each child, during the magical years of development, essentially the parents are God. For example, Dad could say to Junior at an early age that tomorrow the sun is going to come up from the west and be bright blue and Junior would respond, “OK, if you say so!” Whenever a need goes unmet, impressionable children are vulnerable and conclude it is their fault. At a young impressionable age, it is one thing if they have a problem, but it is really big if God—mom or dad are the cause for the problem. So, as a child grows through the psychological stages of development, it is necessary in early adulthood for them to take the parents off the pedestal so that the adult child can have an adult relationship with mom and dad.

    When this takes place, you will not only recognize who shortchanged you but how to get your emotional change back. The way you give the change back to your parents who failed to meet significant needs is that you give back the shame you have carried for them into your adulthood. For example, a child learns that s/he matters when the parent spends significant time with them on their terms and not the parents’ terms. When this does not happen, the child concludes without conversation that they matter less than other things. The need for connection and knowing they are valued is so great at this young impressionable age, that the child will seek ways to get mom and dad’s attention in order to know they matter. The child may try to be a family hero, scapegoat, or achiever in one form or another, all examples of seeking the parent’s attention to know that they are significant and matter to the parent. This is often carried out subconsciously by the child.

    So, in the development of a wise-mind adult, you seek to recognize these unmet needs and consciously give back to mom and dad your carried shame. By that you converse with them and share the unmet need from childhood and how you have carried shame for not mattering. You can explain that now you are aware that there have been many things you have done to get their attention only to never be able to do enough to know that you mattered down deep. This dynamic may very well be unintentional on your parent’s part. Yet, by recognizing this and sharing it with them, you can give them back the shame that you have carried of not being good enough to matter. It is the parent’s role to connect with you as a child in meaningful ways by spending sufficient time with you on your terms in order for you to know that you do matter.

    If your parents are deceased, or unwilling to have the conversation, then you can have a powerful discussion without them by putting them in an empty chair with someone present who you trust and will give you a fair hearing. With this trust support by your side, you can put your mother or father metaphorically in the empty chair and have a healing conversation. Remember, this conversation is for you to heal not to lay blame at your parents’ feet. You can be direct and respectful with kindness at the same time.

    It is possible to stop destructive and damaging behaviors without resolving unmet childhood emotional needs. You can put a cork in the bottle and stop a destructive pattern of addictive drinking or other hurtful behaviors. However, without doing this work, you are unlikely to drain the pool of pain in your life which will continue to sabotage healthy relational connections. It is important to scrub the childhood wounds that result from unmet childhood emotional needs. As you do this work, you will not only recognize who shortchanged you but you will be able to get the emotional change back because you will become the empowered change agent of your own life and destiny.

    Your task in identifying the shortchange is to recognize where to roll up your sleeves to do emotional work. It is not to get you to hate your parents and get stuck with blame. However, it is understanding that leads to healing, not blame. If you do hate or are angry with your parents for their abuse or lack of meeting your needs, your recognition is the beginning of the work. Do it to transform negative emotions into healing experiences.

    Confessions and Memories

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    “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    I am sitting in front of the home I grew up in my hometown. Memories flood my mind like a rolodex that won’t stop turning. The memories are very real. The current reality makes me question whether or not the past could have ever been true. The house I grew up on 17th Street is dilapidated. It needs painting and a major overhaul. Our neighbors, Mr. Hill and the Selbys are long since dead and gone. Their homes are an absolute disaster. Selby’s house used to be the nicest on the block. Mr. Hill was forever doing upgrades to his house. He was always painting the gutters, the trim or something else. Now his home is in such disarray and decay it is hard to believe anyone actually lives in the house. Both his and the Selbys’ houses should be demolished. As I assess the current existence of decay of my home, the memories just keep flooding in. 

    Things I remember: 

    ….I remember throwing a rubber ball against the wooden steps playing a make-believe baseball game with my favorite team in mind, the Chicago Cubs. I threw the ball so many times against the steps that the wood broke and began to collapse. 

    …..I remember the bare spots in our front yard that formed first, second, and third base from playing baseball with my brother and friends in the neighborhood. 

    ….I remember the upstairs window my older brothers would hang me out by my ankles, threatening to let me drop, just for the hell of it. 

    ….I remember the early days when we had to walk across town to go to church because we didn’t have a car. 

    ….I remember the boredom that came with Sunday church. Three hours in the morning and another 2 hours at night. It ruined watching the start of NFL games in the Fall and MLB on Sunday afternoons in the Summer.

    It’s amazing how things that happened over 50 years ago can be so real in the here and now! Sometimes the bad memories wake me up to be relived anew. They roll around in my mind like a dryer that never turns off. Experiential therapies have been helpful. Hypnosis, EMDR, Regressive therapy, Somatic experience, guided meditation and music have all eased the compulsion of thought. Yet, the experiences that I have absorbed from home to church and everywhere in between are part of my blood and bone. Misbeliefs, abuse, theological brainwashing, patriarchal domination no longer rule or control my behavior. However, they are forever etched in my psychological DNA and color my everyday experience. I have learned to sit in a room experiencing life in the present while being aware of the cycle of past experiences that constantly spin and roll in the background of my mind. 

    Here are some things I have learned from nostalgia:

    1. Nostalgia helps me to embrace feelings. Going home to the place I grew up in reminded me to come home to myself. Yearning for yesterday once more produces feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and wondering what might have been if things then were different. Living in feelings of the past can trigger a desire to focus on the future and never really be present in the here and now. However, I have learned to shift the experience of nostalgic feelings and come home to my present mind where loneliness can disappear. Sitting with past nostalgia is an invitation to enter the suffering of present struggles in the friendly safe confines of your own heart. Home is your island of self within which you can practice being gentle and kind. You do not need to fix or change anything—just be.
    1. Memories are best managed through mindful meditation. You may feel discomfort from the vacuum that exists within. There is a tendency to fill the vacuum with activity and attempts to connect to others through electronic devices. Yet, being busy to connect will not make you less lonely. You can be surrounded by people and immersed in activity yet experience intense loneliness. Meditation slows your life so that you can notice what you feel inside.
    1. Sitting is a revolution that connects nostalgia to the present moment. When you are not in good relationship with your romantic partner, family, friends, and the world around you, practice sitting. Bring relaxation to your body by noticing the in-breath and the out-breath. Observe your feelings without trying to change them. Notice your thoughts and let them be as they are. Recognize your true self as the sky and your feelings and thoughts like the clouds. They will come and go but your true self remains the sky. It will bring calmness and connection to yourself.
    1. Memories point to the reality that the way out is in. Memories have taught me that when my mind races about past abusive experiences or current suffering, the best way to work through unwanted thought is to go inward. Your body is your home. Your body is your feet, your lungs, etc. Slow down your busyness to notice your lungs through the in-breath and out-breath. Notice what your body is feeling or experiencing. You won’t be able to connect with others if you cannot connect with yourself. So embrace your feelings with tenderness. You will find yourself when you feel lost not by going outside yourself but by going within.

    Memories managed effectively produce inspiration for you and others who are connected to you. Going home to yourself will allow you to work through nostalgia and accept life as it is. It will help you to be present moment by moment. In this way nostalgic memories will not dominate you. You will engage freedom from past experiences.

    As you provide your own warmth and safety you will be an inspiration to those who are connected to you. Your experience of inner calm and connection will inspire others to go within. You will help others to find sanctuary and warmth in their own “home”. The illusion of nostalgia is resolved when you practice sitting with your feelings past and present. Coming home to yourself merges past feelings with present realities of experience and fosters a refuge of safety and warm connection. 

    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. 

    Your Feelings and Thoughts Do Make a Difference

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    Addicts are vulnerable. They don’t know how to recognize or manage feelings, particularly strong and powerful ones. What they do know is to split off from their feelings and pretend they are just fine. Once I was sitting at a wedding reception and a clergy colleague who sat next to me began talking.   He had a close friend who was also clergy and was allegedly run out of his church because of a trouble-making family who accused him of sexual abuse. What he didn’t know is that the accusatory family was mine, and I was one of the family members that was abused. I wanted to kill him on the spot. But, I didn’t. What I did was smile and become quiet. I think I excused myself to go to the bathroom. 

    Addicts are pretty good with these splits. When they are hurt, numbed with shame, seething with resentment, or dominated with anger or hate, they know how to compartmentalize their feelings and pretend they are not there. They use this ability to manage and control their environment that is unsafe. The problem is that inwardly they lose themselves by failing to recognize their effect. They drown in the feelings that were triggered or go to great lengths through maladaptive behavior to avoid their emotions. Addicts learn to avoid the obvious and embrace the improbable.

    They live in a constant state of vulnerability not knowing how to recognize or manage the feelings that have been buried. They are unable to draw from their own internal resources because there aren’t any. They remain in constant need of self-regulation resources. They think the resources are external.  It’s a fantasy that is never realized. Since painful, rejecting, and shaming relationships are the cause of their deficits in self, they cannot turn to others to get what they need or have never received. With few other options addicts turn to their drug of choice. Why, because the dopamine rush delivers what it promises. To get away from the hell of the pain that slaps them around. Any reason is a good reason to use. 

    Drugs of choice migrate.  Addicts might find a way to shut down their use of heroin, booze, crystal, molly, or blow.  They just migrate to the next fix. It can be anything including workaholism, exercise, food disorder, rage, and even caretaking. It is common for recovering addicts to create a new cocktail for their choice of drug. It will always be that way until they get to the root cause of needing a fix. Here are a few things to consider.

    1. Understand your pain. Slow your life to a pace that you go inward and embrace what hurts. Dare to embrace average. Go inside to the common places of your life and face what you feel. None of us got through our childhood unscathed. There you will find the wounds that need to be scrubbed. It hurts but you are already in pain. Why not make your hurt a healing hurt rather than wallowing in pain that never stops looking for a fix that is never enough.  You must resolve the pain and stop pretending.

    2. Learn to regulate your emotions. Practice recognizing what you feel, particularly the powerful feelings of shame, resentment, anger, and hate. Learn to sit with them and experience embracing unwanted emotions and notice that you can get through them without having to numb out. You will need help. Step outside yourself and ask for that help even though it feels awkward.

    3. Utilize others for support. Finding your tribe for support is important. This is a long-term problem for addicts in recovery. When in crisis, addicts surrender to a 12-step fellowship. Often, they don’t go deep in a consistent manner to live in consultation with accountability about their feelings. You will need help holding your feet to the fire about relationship issues. Addicts often focus on the fundamentals of 12-step work in order to address their drug of choice. But many miss out by not using that same support to regulate their feelings in other aspects of living. It is important to utilize your community of support around the feelings that come up in your everyday relationship life.

    4. Become an observer of what you think about your own thinking and learn how to reflect on the mind of another. Learning to manage your emotions is necessary to understand your thoughts about yourself and the world around you. People tend to be insular. Life becomes a mind-numbing hamster wheel in that we just do what we do. Take time to pause and observe what you feel. Utilize contemplation. Think about your thoughts. Learn to identify and give voice to the different parts of your mind that are contradictory to other parts. Learn to sift and sort by listening and recognizing the truth that is in each thought. Then practice integrating your thought discrepancies with your own wise mind. It is necessary to transform behavior. Emotional maturity and secure attachment are capacities to reflect on your own internal emotional experience and to make sense of it. It includes being able to observe and reflect on the mind of others and connect with them. The way you read others is important. It begins with learning to manage and make sense of your own affect and thoughts.  

    Managing your feelings and thoughts creates self-agency. Developing emotional management is necessary in cultivating a true sense of self. When you don’t you foster a false sense of self which blinds your awareness of feelings and thoughts. It further darkens your understanding of ways in which your behavior hurts yourself and others. 

    Oh! By the way, I did circle back with the insensitive clergy colleague and insist that he listen to the gory details of sexual molestation by his clergy friend toward me and my family. Though he was stunned with silence, he heard the other side of the story. I have since wondered if that did not change the way he shared the narrative with others.

    Sitting With Your Own Insides

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

    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.

    Stuck in Depression and What Do You Do?

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

    “You don’t understand

    depression until you can’t

    stand your own presence

    in an empty room.” —Unknown

    Depression is an epidemic across the world. It is estimated that more than 264 million people suffer from this malady. The late actor Robin Williams once said I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” Tragically, he died having been dominated by depression. 

    Depression has been a “friend” throughout much of my life. Many years ago it dominated me. I was hospitalized at one point unable to function. It was like living in a body that wanted to fight to survive with a mind that wanted to die. At times I was tired and scared at the same time. I was dominated by a fear of failure but had no energy to produce. I wanted to be alone but dreaded being lonely. I worried about everything while at the same time caring about nothing. There were times my head felt like an old Maytag washing machine churning and churning with anxiety. Then there were moments when everything felt numb and paralyzed. Depression was like a bruise that never went away. It was like being lost in the woods. The further I walked into the deep woods the more lost I became and the dimmer the light of hope was at the end of the tunnel. I got stuck in mental wool-gathering. Dread, emptiness, anxiety, and panic jammed my headspace. It’s like in the movie The Lord of the Rings where Frodo Baggins is stung and paralyzed by the giant spider unable to move. With depression, I  wanted to talk and scream but all I could do was whisper. I wanted to stay in bed and hoped I would fall asleep before I fell apart. Depression is a wound that is deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. So, the question is when you are stuck in debilitating depression how do you get unstuck when you feel so paralyzed? Here are a few considerations.

    1. Slow things down and sit with what is real. Don’t try to fix depression on the run. People try to avoid discomfort by distracting themselves with activity and daily busyness. For some people it works, if you define “working” as being able to numb out unwanted feelings so that you simply exist. This choice involves running on a treadmill of doing more to keep from being less. You have to be busy 24/7 for 365. Of course, no one can do this so you engage in a cocktail of destructive behaviors. You can make food, sex, alcohol, work, drugs, etc. an additive piece that provides temporary relief.  Some people live and die this way. Others free fall into major depression which stops them cold in their tracks. If you suffer this malady you know that it is powerful and overwhelming. The best choice is to slow the pace of life and sit with unwanted feelings that are underneath the busyness of your life. 

    2. Listen to your feelings, they will tell you where your life is out of balance. Most of us learn to avoid what is uncomfortable. Yet, the way out is leaning into the discomfort. Discomfort is there for a reason. Feelings are a way for your body to talk to you. People with depression often experience levels of nostalgia. When you sit with nostalgia you notice that you pine for past experiences. Reflection, about past memories, triggers awareness to create warmth and connection in the present moment. However, the tendency is to wallow in the experience of yesterday without being motivated to provide meaningful connections in the present. The result is chronic loneliness which left untended will fuel depression. There are many feelings that bombard your awareness. Slow your life in such a way that you listen to your feelings. They will tell you where you are out of balance so that you can adjust your lifestyle to create emotional equanimity.

    3. Don’t go outside, go inside.  When people hurt on the inside they want to find a quick fix from the outside. There is help from the outside that will take you inside. The following medications have provided relief for millions: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are brand names that have been helpful. There are other medications that have also proven helpful. Plant medicines and dissociative medicines like ketamine can also be useful when administered by professionals and not recreationally. The utilization of these drugs and plant medicines, is strategically designed to assist in going underneath the symptoms of depression to address root causation. Ultimately, this is where healing takes place. Looking at the unresolved family of origin, trauma, and grief issues is helpful to drain the pain that fuels the major depression. There are many therapeutic interventions that trained therapists use to help with this process of healing. There is no magic bullet but there is healing for those who are brave enough to go inside.

    4. Stop trying to fix other people. Other people’s problems become a tonic to our own existence—a way to get outside of ourselves. World-class performers like Michael Phelps, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry admittedly have all used performance achievement as an escape from depression. But it never worked. You may not be famous but don’t try to avoid your depression by getting caught up with other people’s drama to energize your life and to escape what you do not want to deal with. Stop trying to fix other people.

    5. Live your life in emotional honesty. When you live with incongruence you learn to feel one thing, say another, and end up acting disconnected from what you say or what you feel. You get lost. This makes you vulnerable to depression. People who overcome depression learn to open up and say it straight. It takes courage to be emotionally honest. In treating depression, without emotional honesty, you will drown. People fear disappointing others who are significant to their lives. At the core of healing depression, you will need to practice detaching from pleasing others to be true to yourself. 

    Practice these steps and free yourself from the dregs of depressed living. If you are stuck and want help from your depression, reach out. You are not alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You simply must ask for help.

    Winning and Losing: What You Can Control and What Really Matters

    Once I watched the Boston Celtics lose a 7th and deciding game to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals of the NBA on their home court in Boston. Fans were disappointed and the players seemed somewhat shocked. The Celtics have played in 36 game 7 playoff games and have won 27 championships—not bad! Not only did they lose a game 7 but so did the hockey Bruins, both in the same season. Newspapers called the performance of both teams embarrassing and pitiful. 

    The Celtics began the night stone-cold behind the arc and it snowballed from there. When their shooting is on they are practically unbeatable. They just were not on against a very good team. 

    People become very sensitive about winning and losing. Of course, everyone wants to be a winner, and losing is something you want to avoid and not talk about. The truth is everyone experiences the devastation of loss far more frequently than winning. 

    It’s important to talk about results you can and cannot control, and how to make meaningfulness from it all since it is a common thread to everyday living. 

    You cannot control the results: You can create a pool of great talent, shape the environment, influence those around you, control work ethic, control attitude, and approach, and chisel your own mindset toward winning. You just cannot control the outcome. At the end of the season for every team sport there is one winner and everyone else loses. Even the winner is not a winner for very long. When we win we celebrate and pontificate as if we might be a champion forever. But it fades quickly!

    I don’t think the Miami Heat wanted to win more than the Boston Celtics wanted to win. When you try to control all the factors that go into a team result, plus overcome the factors that might be going really well for your opponent, it brings you to the precipice of results you cannot always control.

    The Celtics won game 6 with a tip-in by a player that was in the right place at the right time with one-tenth of a second left on the clock. Had that not happened there would not have even been a game 7! You cannot choreograph that result. It was happenstance that 2 teams very much wanted to win but one guy makes a tip-in at the buzzer! It’s luck! Vegas thought the luck would continue by favoring the Celtics by 7.5 points at home. They lost by 19. It wasn’t meant to be. Many times it is not meant to be that you will be the champion. 

    Michael Jordan who is considered by himself and many others to be the greatest basketball player in the history of the NBA won 6 titles out of 15 seasons. As an owner for 13 seasons, he has only won 3 playoff games, period! Is it because he doesn’t want to win bad enough? I don’t want to be around when you tell him that. It would not be safe. It simply suggests you cannot control the results all the time.

    However, there are things you can control. One thing is a deep belief in yourself. You can be a heart champion. Heart champions are a different breed and are spawned from a different ilk. There is so much more than the score at the end of the game. Self-definition comes from a deeper source. It’s about the preparation, the sacrifice, the sweat, and engagement of uncertainty. A heart champion’s life is determined within before the game is ever played and independent of the score at the end of the game. It has to do with connecting congruency with values of the heart. 

    A heart champion is more concerned about being true to one’s heart and not just winning or losing. Becoming true to your heart takes a willingness to go deeper and find meaningfulness in all of life’s endeavors, including failure. It’s not like heart champions condition themselves to lose. Rather, they are carved from a deeper place down deep inside. A heart champion knows that losing is a part of the ebb and flow of life. She determines to never let an outcome define who she is. Instead, definition is determined by the vision of destiny from within which supersedes any result. Her priority is knowing that she is connected to herself, embracing all of herself—the good, the bad, and the ugly. She understands that life is a tapestry weaving together the bitter and the sweet, success and failure, triumph and tragedy. Positive results are fine and desired, but fundamentally, a heart champion already has determined that they are “an unrepeatable miracle of the universe.” 

    Heart champions understand that no victory will add to this reality and no defeat will take away from it. It is already etched into the stone of destiny that exists in their heart. It is this deep self-belief that enables a heart champion to go deep with disappointment, bitter loss, and uncertainty. Still with great confidence, know that they will rise again!