self-awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuck in Depression and What Do You Do?

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“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!

A Five Tool Relapse Recovery Plan: Tool #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taming Your Critical Voice

“The older you get, the more you understand how your conscience works. The biggest and only critic lives in your perception of people’s perception of you rather than people’s perception of you.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy

A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along self-consciously the man began to wonder that others might think “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man stopped and put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.

Later they passed a group of men, and the man began to worry that these guys might be thinking that “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides. So sheepishly the man responded to his inner conflict by ordering his boy to get off, and he got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women. Now he feared that one would say to the other “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the man was perplexed with frustration and did not know what to do. Finally, he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and he was convinced people were staring at them as they rode their little donkey. He became overwhelmed with shame wondering if the men were thinking “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours — you and your hulking son?”

So the man and boy got off the donkey. To address his shameful thoughts he decided to cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. While they walked along with their donkey tied in this position, the man was convinced that others were scoffing and laughing at him. When they came to a bridge, the donkey getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle, the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned. 

When you worry so much about what others think you can tie yourself in knots with your own critical voice which pulls you away from doing logical and next right steps. Addicts struggle with their own critical voice all the time. This struggle is likely the greatest hindrance that sabotages long-term sobriety.

Taming the inner critical voice is a challenge for everyone, addict and non-addict alike. Long-term sobriety requires it. Many try to eliminate the critical voice. Realistically, at best we learn to manage the voice and not dispose of it. To do so we have to come to terms with its voice and give it direction so that it does not dominate our behaviors. 

Your critical voice is always delivered with the toxicity of shame. You did or said it wrong. You are never enough. Others do it right but you don’t. You just blew up proving that you will never get it right! When will you ever get it, stupid? These and an endless collection of other judgments and criticisms can be levied at you in rapid machine gun fire within your mind. Often this can occur without anyone saying anything to you. Most people have certain life experiences of failure that make them vulnerable to experiencing the wrath of their own shameful critical voice. For me, it’s when I commit to doing something like meeting for coffee someplace with a friend or colleague and I totally space it out, not just being a few minutes late but as in I don’t think of it until the next day. My mind can go nuts inside. My critical voice has been known to scream and yell at me until it becomes hoarse! It is all motivated by shame. Most people have these failures in life that trigger terrific lectures from your critical voice. How do you address your critical voice when it goes on a nonstop rant?

Here are some suggestions for thought.

1. In the midst of a critical voice rant, take attention away from the thought. You can do this by directing your thoughts toward your body and focusing your attention on feeling the energy in your hands. You can take a walk and concentrate for a few minutes on the conversation of birds chirping and singing in the trees. There are a number of possibilities for distraction. When you take a deep breath, your critical voice will slow down when it no longer has your entire attention. For this to occur you will need to concentrate on establishing an anchor for being present that you return to when the negative rumination runs rampant in your head. 

2. Identify that there is negative self-talk going on in your head—that it is not who you are: There may be experiences of negative onslaught that barrage your thoughts and drag you along whereby you conclude that you are your thoughts. It is necessary to distinguish that you are not your thoughts. You must be able to separate and observe that you have negative thoughts that come crashing in so that you don’t conclude that the negative criticism is who you are. Some people fuse their negative narrative with their identity. They conclude that their addiction is who they are and therefore they must act out. They create a storyline of victimization that underscores victimhood as an identity and defend their right to be a victim. If challenged about their negative narrative they will utilize their anger with “How dare you question my identity with all that has happened to me”. Sometimes when people complain enough they get the attention they never got when they remained quiet. So they discover that their negative narrative has a payoff that is worthwhile. Negative attention is better than no attention at all. So they continue to act out with addiction to support their negative belief that will provide the attention that had previously been missing. Being an identified patient is better than being invisible. However, you never learn to give up the storyline of negative self-talk as long as you see the negative narrative as who you are. 

3. Understand the source of where the negative self-talk comes from: Once you identify the negative message it is important to recognize the voice of negativity. Usually, that voice comes from your family of origin or significant caretaker. It could come from another significant mentor. It is important to then give back the message and its power over you and take back your own self-empowerment. You may simply declare that they are not welcome to the conversation and that you will ignore the negative message.

4. Practice being present in the moment of discomfort: Being present in the moment is difficult when everything feels shitty. Yet it is important to bring yourself to inner alignment with the present moment you experience. It is about accepting where you are right now, not forever. It is important to learn to lean into the present moment. Everything can be going wrong. You might be sore with remorse, financial reversal, extreme loneliness, or other intense emotional or physical pain. As hard as it seems you must come to terms with the immediate moment you are in. It’s not going to change instantly. However, you can change gradually. You must learn to practice total acceptance about where you are and what you are facing. You do this by practicing thanksgiving. In the midst of painful experience, you learn to challenge and change your negative narrative by leaning into what is and making something meaningful rather than waiting for the next big break in life. 

5. Rely upon your affirmations: The secret power of affirmative thought can never be overemphasized. Addicts with long-term sobriety and transformation have long since learned the value of practicing the power of affirmation. There is no lobotomy that works. There is no substitute. Regularly bathing yourself with an affirmative belief that you have hammered into your awareness requires ongoing conditioning and training. It becomes a galvanized shield against the criticism of others and tempers your own self-judgment. It is what I have found to be the secret to taming your critical voice.