self-care

Dating Protocol Considerations to Avoid Painful Past Patterns

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According to the most recent data from the American Psychological Association, the divorce rate in the United States is around 40-50% for first marriages. As you might guess it is higher for second marriages and on up from there. You would think with those kinds of repeat numbers, you would slow the process down so that you don’t repeat the second time around the agony you experienced the first time. But, it doesn’t work that way. 

The relief of getting away from the agony of a relationship that hurts and the need to fill the emptiness of being alone, and without the intrigue of a romantic relationship, overpowers perspective and contemplative consideration. Add to all of that the rush of oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine that comes with the honeymoon feeling of a new relationship, and you have a cocktail kick that blows past rational thought and deliberation. It all contributes to why the likelihood of failure in a second marriage is higher than the first. 

Analytically, we can figure it all out. Yet, even after enlightenment we go against what we know and plunge down the same rabbit hole we just escaped. 

Why is this? There are many reasons. People carry with them old tapes of mistaken beliefs learned from their family of origin that create relationship sabotage. Why consider something that might spoil the fantasy relationship I think I can have in the here and now? Many people choose to run from what hurts and never want to stop and scrub the wounds that come from betrayal and various forms of intimacy disability. All this makes sense. It’s just that doing the same thing you have always ever done, doesn’t work toward healing a broken heart that comes from a dysfunctional relationship. 

So, here are some considerations to think about regarding relationship healing, before engaging the next exclusive romantic relational experience.

1. Take some time to catch your breath. You have been running so hard to fix the hurt of the old relationship in ways that did not work, or you are running as hard as you can to get away from the relational pain. Take a time out and catch your breath. Relationships in distress or pursuit burn a lot of emotional BTUs. How much time do you take? One size doesn’t fit all. Some people need 6 months; others need a year. The time you need is unique to you. After you have calmed the chaos, the amount of time you need to heal before engaging in a serious new relationship will vary. The point is to catch your breath before rushing ahead. 

2. You will need time to grieve. How much time? Again, it varies. The rule of thumb is that you will need more time than you are thinking about right now! You will need time to grieve what used to be and no longer is. You will need to grieve what never was that you hoped would have been. You will need to grieve the reality of what is. It’s hard to engage in grieving when the oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine are rushing through your veins with someone new. Most of us don’t know how to grieve deeply. We cry, feel empty, might get drunk, and on we go to the next relationship. But, there’s the need to go deep and feel the hurt of the sadness of what will never be again. Relationship ties undone with family, the loss of the good times, the hurt of the pain, and the impact on others (kids particularly, friends, relatives, etc) all must be embraced experientially before moving on to something new in a serious relationship. The truth is that you will need to create space in your life to grieve and let go of what used to be periodically for the rest of your life. It isn’t meant to grovel in the pain of an old relationship. Yet, recognizing painful experiences in past relationships and letting go is a part of the pattern of being an adult. The time it takes you to sufficiently grieve will vary and you will be wise to consult with counsel and to live in consultation with support people. 

3. Learn to be with yourself. When you end a relationship there is an empty spot. There is a great temptation to fill it in with another relationship, work, travel, and a lot of other activities. Our culture provides so much stimulation that you can just go from one high to the next. But, you won’t heal yourself that way or know who you really are by doing a blitz on stimulants that come from dating and other activities. Embrace the winter of your life and learn from it.

4. Unravel the patterns that sabotage intimacy. If you don’t you will keep doing it and likely blame the other party for your relationship unfulfillment. Some people can date and unravel this self-sabotage behavior at the same time through counseling and group support. Most of us cannot. If you have never been in a riptide current at the beach, you would be wise to stop swimming and learn from those who have experienced and managed the riptide. Ignoring this suggestion is how many people drown in the next relationship doing the same things as before. Unraveling your self-sabotage pattern that contributes to relational failure is difficult. You will need to address unresolved family of origin issues that contribute to the way you do relationships today. Soren Kierkegaard was right when he wrote “Life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. To move forward and not self-sabotage you will need to look backward and understand what brought you to where you are today. On the other hand, it’s easier to blame your past partner and keep truckin’ wondering why you keep hooking up with partners who hurt you.

5. Sex is always an issue: If you are stuck in the juggernaut of sexual addiction, sex has become an organizing principle of your life. Any reason is a good reason to be sexual. Most likely your behavior is about objectifying another person. Objectification is a way of using another person to get your needs met without dignity and respect or consideration of others. Non-addicted people can objectify as well. If you use another person’s space to meet your needs without proper scrutiny of that individual’s needs then you are objectifying that person. Some people say no sex for 6 months or 1 year after a breakup! Maybe so or maybe not! It makes sense to discipline your tendency to accelerate physical connection so that with moderate speed you are better able to distinguish the difference between intensity of feeling and true intimacy. All too often with oxytocin, adrenaline, and dopamine in control, people thicken the plot to an unhealthy relationship by mistaking intensity for intimacy. In this equation, addicts can’t get enough of what they don’t need and many non addicts adopt an unspoken mentality that my half plus your half will make us a whole! On the contrary, you take what is and make it less because the other person cannot supply your basic need for self-care, so 1/2 + 1/2 = 1/4, not a whole. 

6. Don’t forget the impact on other key relationships: This doesn’t mean you don’t date. It just means that you don’t date lacking sensitivity to the community of people who provide support and who respect and love you. This includes careful considerations about dating others who were once romantically involved with your friends, family, or workmates. Most companies have policies that govern romantic relationships at work. However, not all are the same and many people try to bend the rules to engage in romance. It’s important to be careful and considerate in comprehending the consequences of romance in these situational dynamics. Children need to be carefully considered. Bringing a new person in and out of their lives can be very destructive to them without thoughtful consideration of their care. Each of these impacts requires consultation and accountability with people who are in your support group. 

We are all designed to experience connection with others. How we engage romance requires thoughtful preparation and consideration so that the charm that wells up within does not become harm that hurts others.

Hangovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can Be Learned From Those Who Do Not Make It

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Every blog post I have ever written addresses tools to help addicts avoid relapse, rebuild their lives, and deepen intimacy with themselves and others. I have worked in the field of addiction recovery for 28 years. There have been many inspirational success stories. There were some I thought would maintain long-term sobriety for years but left the program and went dark. There were others who I swore didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to maintain sobriety, who became a source of inspiration for healing in the world they live. It’s impossible to know who will stick to a recovery program and who will not. 

Today’s post is about those who didn’t make it.  If you work in the field of addiction recovery you become conditioned to know that some addicts seeking recovery will respond and others won’t. It is tough when someone does respond and makes solid progress, then tragically goes back to old destructive behaviors. They disappear from group attendance and you don’t hear from them again.  It’s disappointing! Once you were close in communication and knew more about their life than anyone else on the planet. Then suddenly they’re gone, never to be heard from again. The situations that are most difficult are those who lost their lives in the fight against their demons.  It is difficult to let go of these tragedies. Over time there have been many in my professional life I never forget those whom I have worked with who lost their lives to their drug of choice.  I want to dedicate this blog to those who lost their battle with addiction and their lives. Part of me left this world with them when they lost the fight. I would like to share a few stories about those who tragically lost their battle against addiction. Of course, I have changed the names to protect their anonymity. 

Max was a truck driver. He was tough, burly, and an all-or-nothing type of thinker. He meant what he said and with determination would follow through with his recovery commitments. His weakness was gin and tonic. His wife Martha loved him and codependently tried to please him. When Max wasn’t drinking he was great. When he drank he was mean, unpredictable, and volatile. He was also bipolar and when he drank gin and tonic he would stop taking his medication.  Max routinely worked a 12-step program and credited a new-found faith in God for deepening his commitment to program work. All went well for Max during the many months I worked with him to overcome his addiction. However, throughout the course of time tension grew between Max and his wife. He began to struggle with the long over-the-road hours that his job demanded. He shut down communication with his wife and pulled away from others who had been helpful. 

He complained that the trucking company he worked for cheated him of his earnings.  He was resentful and angry that they reprimanded him for inaccurately documenting driving hours while on the road. His backslide was shockingly rampant. He became sporadic with his program. My contact with him became more crisis-focused around fights with his wife and less focused on vulnerability toward addictive cravings.  He stopped taking his meds and became more combative in our conversations. Then, one night his wife called me and said that Max had gone off the deep end. She said he holed himself up in a hotel with a couple of bottles of gin and tonic and a gun. She wanted me to call him so I did. Though Max was glad I called, he was very reactive and agitated. Someone had called the police because of erratic behavior witnessed by others at the hotel. When the police arrived they knocked on his door and he panicked.  He began screaming obscenities with irrational thoughts about his wife and the world around him. The police entered the room with a management key. Instantly Max picked up his gun pulled the trigger and shot himself in the head. I will never forget walking down the concrete corridor of the morgue at the hospital with his wife to identify his body. When they pulled the curtain back from the window in the room where his body lay, screams from his wife echoed throughout the concrete corridor of that hospital. Max was a dear man. Without the meds, he lost his reasoning. Without the support community, he lost his way, his self, and his life. I often wonder how many like Max remain in the bubble of self-destruction unable to tame their demons of addiction.

Steve was a medical professional, a family man, and a sex addict. He struggled with perfectionism trying to please his wife Wendy. When he failed to do so, which was often, he responded by shutting down with denial, half-truths, and lies by omission. Shame dogged him like a pack of wolves chasing him relentlessly through the woods. He just couldn’t handle the failure. He tried to beat himself up to a better place, and that never works.   His public persona was quiet and even keel. However, inwardly he was deeply troubled with visceral turmoil. His inner struggle began to explode at home. I worked with him and his wife for a season of time. There were many hours that I walked alongside while Steve languished in turbulence and unrest about his defensiveness and deceit. During that time he made good progress but would chronically relapse. He sought support through a 12-step recovery and made a few connections. He worked hard and demonstrated hope for healing. However, over time his gains faded into failure and he wallowed in shame and guilt. He began to isolate himself with bitter disappointment. Slowly, he began to cut out most of his therapy and 12-step support. The relationship with his wife that he prized and hoped would heal ended in divorce. He spiraled into uncontrollable depression and defeat. Shame ate away at his core self till nothing was left to build on. He lost sight of hope and help. He made one last effort in treatment with failed results. Steve wallowed in immense emotional pain.  In desperation to escape the pain and emotional struggle, he took his life while in close proximity to others who were trying to help him fan the flame of hope and resilience.  Overwhelmed with shame, misery, and mental illness that accompanied his compulsive sexual behavior, hope was snuffed out once and for all. Steve was a sensitive soul. He was not a hardened playboy with a long resume of sexual infidelity. He simply was unable to stop masturbating to porn and find a way to forgive himself. The hounds of shame had cornered him, and suicide was his only way out. 

Why is it that some people face the adversity of addiction and seem to transform their lives while others are unable to get back on their feet and even perish from the same challenge? Here are a few considerations gleaned from the stories of Max and Steve.

1. Shame dominated both men.  A rigid embrace of sobriety is not sustainable. Both men were clear about their bottom-line behaviors that indicated acting out. Neither knew how to bring themselves back to the center when lapse or relapse behavior occurred. They struggled with being stuck in the mud of shame and self-criticism. Staying stuck in shame without knowing how to crawl out of the muck and mire of failure distorts perspective and increases the mistaken belief that you can never recover right. Both men were perfectionists which is like throwing gasoline onto a fire of dry tinder. Many addicts in recovery never learn to stalk their shame in order to separate their behavior from their sense of self. So, if they do shitty behavior it means they are a piece of shit. Ultimately, if an addict stays stuck in a mistaken belief, h/she will produce results to support the distorted belief. Max always contended that he was not normal and would not be able to measure up to others. Steve was mired in perfectionism from day one. The harder they tried to get out of their own way, the deeper the hole they dug striving to do recovery perfectly. It was a major force that influenced their demise.

2. Both ignored developing self-parenting skills.  Recovery is about successfully learning to do self-care. The term “self-parenting” fits because subconsciously addicts try to fulfill parental needs, that were not met in childhood, through significant relationships in the present. Yet, what happens is that when you try to fulfill individual wholeness from a partner, the opposite occurs. It’s the old adage that 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4 when you thought it would make a whole. To fulfill your quest for happiness and safety, it is required that you take responsibility for making yourself whole by addressing your own childhood neediness. The only way to become whole is to practice being your own parent. When Max came home physically and mentally exhausted because of his cross-country truck run, he expected Martha to fill his empty cup with attention and care. Martha ran around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to make Max comfortable and glad to be home. But, Max was a perfectionist and when he was needy no one on this side of heaven would possibly be able to fulfill his needs in the way he wanted. Steve was determined to do things just right to get the smile of approval from his wife. But in his mind, he always screwed up. To cover his shortcomings, he thought he needed to minimize hurt or lie about what seemed unsatisfactory. Both men’s attempts to rely on their partners for approval and self-care had a short shelf life. They were destined to fail and they did.

3. Both men wanted their partners to be emotionally close and then pulled away in isolation. Both Max and Steve were intimacy-disabled which is the essence of addiction. Each had plans to approach their partner with open hearts. We talk about different strategies to make it happen. Yet, mired in perfectionism, each was stymied. when the results did not turn out exactly as they had hoped. Max was disappointed after surprising Martha with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Martha was exhausted from cleaning and preparing the house for his return home from the road  She was too tired to be sexual after dinner. Max pouted and thought he screwed up and withdrew. The next day they fought about something small and silly cementing isolation between the two. Steve was under pressure the entire week with numerous surgeries in succession every day. His wife engaged a ladies’ night out on Thursday. By then Steve was totally exhausted, functioning on fumes. He decided to go to bed early. While checking his email, he gave in to the urge to look at porn and ended up masturbating. The next day when his wife asked how he did with his sobriety he lied and denied any challenges. Locked with shame he left for work isolated and lonely. He began to think he could not stop the porn, the masturbation, and the lies. Both shrunk from open-hearted confession with their 12-step groups. In the end, both were alone, isolated from themselves, their partners, their support, and their world. It drove both men to the edge and over. 

It is uncommon for most addicts who relapse to become so profoundly stuck that their only choice is to take themselves out. That said, it occurs more frequently than most realize. For sure, every addict who is stuck in the muck and mire of shame, who fails to practice healthy self-care and is isolated from support is destined to relapse. Without addressing these key areas of recovery you will not create long-term sobriety. It is important to learn from the pitfalls and failures of those who have hurt themselves and did not make it.

The Rendezvous with Traumatic Relationships

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Take time to think about times you felt hurt earlier in your life in ways that resurface over and again. Traumatic relationship experiences have a way of recycling throughout the course of life. For many, trauma is like being lost in the woods and walking around in a circle. It is deja vu all over again.

It is familiar for some to consistently pick emotionally unavailable people to partner with and then wonder why they cannot connect or get their emotional needs met. This pattern becomes solidified throughout life. They marry someone who is emotionally unavailable to them. They work for a dysfunctional organization, they allow that employer to use them, thinking that if I go above and beyond then I will be appreciated. Eventually, they quit both the marriage and the job and then go find another job and partner and reenact the same dysfunctional relationship without realizing what is happening. Unresolved validation and unmet developmental needs from earlier times in life are played out in unhealthy repetitive relationships throughout life. As a therapist, I listen to people who are now in their fourth marriage relationship, all with abusive addicts who are emotionally unavailable!

Here are a few suggestions for ending this destructive relationship pattern.

#1: Drain the pool of pain by scrubbing the wound. As long as you clutch past hurtful experiences you will sully your present relationship experiences with misgivings. You must scrub the wounds of past experience and drain your pool of pain. It feels like wallowing in yesterday’s misfortunes. But, it is not. Attempting to ignore or avoid the pain will take you back to wallowing in yesterday’s mud hole. By scrubbing the wound, you embrace the pain and give back the shame that was perpetrated on you by a significant person in your life. You simply grieve the loss of protection and kindness, calling out the shameful message with the decision that you will not be dominated by the accompanying mistaken belief but instead, choose to move forward and act with self-empowerment. This experience is not a one-and-done event but a chosen lifestyle. Metaphorically, putting down the stones you throw or the gun you grasp for protection is the only way to give up the storyline that creates unhealthy relationships. You will begin to heal by establishing relational boundaries that empower healthy connections with care and love in relationships.

#2: Lean into the pain. This suggestion seems far-fetched! But, think of the Chinese handcuff. I remember as a young boy sitting in church trying to work my way through another long tedious worship service. In my pocket, I had a Chinese handcuff. I took it out and began to explore. So, I put my left and right index fingers into the ends of the handcuffs. The handcuffs were cylinder in shape and made of a straw-like material that was flexible. The more I tried to pull my fingers out the tighter the cuffs held me. A surge of panic struck and I pulled harder. But, the small cuffs would tighten further. But, then when I did the opposite and leaned my fingers into the middle of the problematic cuff, the small casing slackened and I could gently and slowly work my fingers free!

With relationship challenges, often the pulling in panic only handcuffs you further and tightens the grip of fear in your life. Running from the pain only deepens and complicates matters. Trying to think your way through only thickens the mental wool that snares you. Geniuses like Einstein or Edison when befuddled and stuck would take a break or take a nap and in surrender to the problem they discovered a solution. Leaning into the pain is facing what is real and allowing it to be, without panic. Sitting with the pain provides the eventual solution. Leaning into the problem that is gripping you will allow you to work your way free.

#3: Practice Forgiveness. Many of you have experienced painful past trauma. It was indescribable. The struggle to survive and the enduring suffering will never be forgotten. Sometimes it seems that if you heal it will mean that you will allow what happened to evaporate from the memory of those who need to be held accountable for your agony. So you believe the only way is that you must commit to reliving the awful experience daily or your suffering will be for naught.

However, you do not need to define yourself by past trauma. To give up this part of your storyline, you will need to forgive those who were responsible and those who could have intervened but did not. Without forgiveness, you will remain stuck in resentment which is a cancer that grows and will dominate your existence.

Forgive means to give and to receive. You begin with receiving forgiveness. Often people wonder what I need to forgive, it was the other person who hurt me. However, it is important that you be able to identify in principle, not in like kind, how you have hurt others like you have been hurt. The one who hurt you wanted what they wanted when they wanted it, right? Think of a time that you wanted what you wanted, when you wanted it, regardless of its impact on others. Seek forgiveness for that. It might be something as obscure as forcing your way while changing from one lane to the next on the freeway. It’s not about comparing whose selfish want is greatest but just owning your own selfishness and forgiving yourself, which means not holding it against yourself. To do this you must sit with the awareness of how your hurt impacted others. This is defined as scrubbing the wound. Being able to sit with the pain of another because of your selfish behavior is necessary to create forgiveness of self. Once you do this you make a conscious choice to not hold your selfish behavior against you.

Now, for the one who hurt you. Once forgiven, you offer the same to the one who egregiously harmed you. Forgiveness does not mean you forget what happened. Rather, it means that you will not hold it against the other person but walk in the opposite direction of resentment to the freedom of thought about the past hurt. Rather than hate, you send positive loving energy to that person. You do this so you can be free from your own emotional prison. Forgiveness is a daily action before it becomes a reality of feeling. Seldom is forgiveness a one-and-done experience in life. You practice forgiving the one who hurt you every day, as it comes up.

You don’t have to engage by making friends with the person but letting go and walking away from resentment is your responsibility. When you learn to lean into the pain and scrub the wound through forgiveness you will end your rendezvous with trauma and stop building intimate relationships with emotionally unavailable people.

Fantasy

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“Just My Imagination running away from me.” — The Temptations

Fantasy is a human experience. We know that other animals have cravings for food, sex, and domination more likely identified as animal instinct. Perhaps, we will never know if they fantasize in a similar way the human beings do. 

People fantasize about almost anything—money, sex, occupation, friendship, religion and on and on the list goes. The Oxford Dictionary defines fantasy as “the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.” Where would we be in our world without the power of fantasy. Creativity and the power of invention would be stymied, even nonexistent without it. 

Fantasy is a wonderful human capacity. While it is difficult to measure and assess, it is known to put color and enhance romance in relationships. Sexual fantasy is a powerful experience that adds adventure and arousal to sexual relationships. 

That said, therein lies a problem. When fantasy becomes a block to connection to another in romantic relationship, it becomes a quandary. It becomes a source of secrecy, deceit, and even leads to betrayal. The porn industry generated over one billion dollars in 2022. Pornography is not a problem to all who view it.  However, there are many who have struggled to eliminate its use because it is against their values and relationship interests. Porn is all about fantasy. There are millions who are hooked on its use. 

Fantasy is a very private matter. No one really knows what goes on inside the mind of another. There is a certain degree of anonymity. You can fantasize about another—undress the person in your mind’s eye—and no one ever knows. For those who compulsively sexually fantasize about others without impulse control, it quickly becomes an unmanageable behavior, even an addiction. To those who struggle with this in our society, it is helpful to perform a pathological examination of a sexual fantasy.  

Sexual fantasy is a wisp of thought that can sweep into the mind without provocation. Typically, you won’t be able to completely control the prevention of thoughts that come into your brain. Bluntly, you can undress another person and visualize being sexual with that person in a nanosecond. It’s the nature of how the brain is wired.

People have tried to clamp down on their thinking processes to eliminate unwanted thoughts through mind control measures and even religious rites and rituals. There has been some success but not universal. 

In order to manage unwanted sexual fantasy, it is helpful to accept the reality that sexual thoughts and impulses indiscriminately enter the mind. The key is to manage the thoughts rather than try to play brain whack-a-mole whenever an intrusive thought is noticed. 

 It is wise for everyone to pay attention to sexual fantasy. Particularly, for those individuals who are compulsive or addictive in their sexual behavior.  Sexual fantasy represents a need that must be addressed in a healthy way. 

For example, you notice that a drop-dead gorgeous person moves in next door or just started working for the company you work for. Spontaneously, you think what it would be like to be in bed with that person. Problematic? Maybe, maybe not. It depends upon what you do with the intrusive thought. Many people would experience the thought, dismiss it and move on throughout their day. However, if you are compulsive or addicted to sexual thought, you will tend to linger and ruminate and feel the rush of excitement the idea brings to your brain. While you move through your day, the sexual fantasy lingers, gnaws and nags at the back of your brain. No one knows but you. What do you do?

If you are addicted you will need to move to a safe place that puts you out of harm’s way.  Think of it like sitting in the middle of a busy intersection in New York City and a bus is coming right at you. It is not time to ponder how did you get here. It is urgent to remove yourself from harm’s way. So regarding the fantasy, do a pattern interrupt. Shift out of the fantasy by thinking about one of a million other legitimate thoughts. Once out of harm’s way, revisit the fantasy. Decode what the fantasy is all about. Figure out what the legitimate need is that must be met in a healthy way. Many addict/compulsive sexual people have learned to sexualize their feelings. They practice cutting off unwanted feelings with sexual thought/ behavior that is against their values. 

Once you identify the need underneath the powerful sexual fantasy, you must develop mature self-parenting skills to meet those legitimate needs. Many people have not developed these skills. It requires training and reconditioning. You needed to learn these skills as a child from your caregivers but you didn’t. So, now you will need to resource yourself with other adults who do these skills well in order to recognize the legitimate need and meet the need in a responsible adult way. It requires impulse control, discipline to stay the course in the presence of discomfort and powerful urge, and staying with the process of applying healthy self-care.

Beating yourself up for having an inappropriate thought will not work. 

Personal self-monitoring skills require contemplation and self-reflection. This process needs to be included every day just as you would with other hygiene practices. When you don’t you will suffer from deprivation. You can be deprived in many ways—physically/financially/spiritually and emotionally. Your assignment as an adult is to monitor and meet these needs with restorative measures.  Unattended deprivation will fuel entitlement that culminates toward scheming to “want what you want when you want it.” It ultimately fuels addictive fantasy for whatever will numb you from your painful circumstance.

Sexual fantasy is meaningful for cultivating intrigue and healthy sexual experience. However, if you are stuck in compulsive destructive sexual fantasy, you will need to apply these interventions with regularity. These pattern interrupts apply to fantasies of all kinds. The interventions are counterintuitive. Lean into the understanding of your fantasy rather than run from it. It is possible to transform your destructive fantasy from a curse that promotes intimacy disability into a blessing of emotional, spiritual, and relational connection.

Failure Friendly

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It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. —J.K. Rowling

The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as the lack of success in doing or achieving something. Really! Somehow, with so much emphasis placed upon not failing in our world, you would think they would come up with something more pronounced than that. If that’s what it is, who doesn’t fail, not once but dozens of times every day? I didn’t brush my teeth twice today, I ran two not three miles. I didn’t clean the house, wash the car, read 50 pages from the book I committed to wade through, meditate, and stop eating yogurt! Some days it seems that I don’t achieve anything that I committed to do! Does that make me a failure?

There is such emphasis upon hiding the “don’t be’s” that the things you achieve get overlooked or minimized. You did put your goals down on paper. You did run two of the three miles on your goal sheet. You did brush your teeth one time of the twice-a-day goal. You did read 10 of the 50 pages you committed to read. While there are many things you can do to adjust your focus, strategy, and effort to achieve more, you are less likely to maintain perspective without a more friendly view of the word failure.

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of Major League Baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out 1700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these commonplace experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and create a meaningful perspective from his experience of professional failure.

Here are a few things to reflect on when addressing failure in life.

1. Everyone experiences daily failure. It is one of the common threads of everyday living.

2. Make sure you underscore what you did do when you highlight what you didn’t.

3. Fail forward. Wallowing in the mud of failure only gets you more muddy and in need of a bath.

4. Take time to grieve. It’s a bummer to come up short after all that effort! Feel shitty! Embrace the bitterness, anger, disappointment, and emptiness that come with failed results. Express it fully! Philosophical reflection can come later.

5. Funnel your grief into action. Don’t act prematurely. When you embrace your feelings around failure, you will know when it’s time to get off your duff and act. Don’t allow negative self-talk to stymie your view of future destiny. Most achievements are completed amidst the roar of negative talk from the conniving inner critic that attempts to sabotage destiny. Learn to ignore the negativity within like an athlete learns to block out the hostile heckles and catcalls in a stadium.

6. Be a heart champion. Model how to go from blight to beauty. Know that failure is a part of life. Determine never to let an outcome define who you are. Instead, let your definition be determined by the vision of destiny you have within that supersedes any result.

7. Chisel out a North Star focus. Cultivate support from others around you to maintain an “eye of the tiger” pursuit of your purpose and plans of fulfilling your destiny.

8. Re-define prosperity. Rather than scaling back your vision, transcend your pursuit and go beyond concrete results that ultimately you don’t control. Embrace the unconditional confidence that no matter what you experience, you can go down and come back up.

9. Clarify what growth means toward the goal you seek to achieve. There are many definitions of growth. If you only know growth by measuring the end result, you will miss the incremental steps that are necessary to get to the end result. Carefully clarify each step needed in your journey. It will help you to enlighten what you can and cannot control.

Strength and inspiration come through the experience of failure by sharing and connecting with the human spirit of others. You will experience a genuine depth of human connection when you learn to stay in the presence of overwhelming discomfort triggered by failure. The human spirit is resilient and has the capacity to transform agony into poise and healing peace when the discomfort and heartache of failure is embraced and shared.

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.

Stalking the Lion King

There is no life experience that disconnects us faster from our personal brilliance than shame. During the course of life, we all struggle with shame. It doesn’t matter if you are poor, wealthy, famous, or infamous. Shame stalks everybody at some point in life.

Shame can be buried in many places. It can be uncovered in anger, blame, denial, workaholism, perfectionism, drinking, and anything else you repeatedly employ to make yourself feel better. Somehow, if an addict could practice vulnerability and embrace the pain of shame, he/she would discover that there is no place left for shame to hide. It would disappear in that moment of time.

You must learn that you cannot beat yourself up to a better place. Addicts confess to me when they have relapsed and feel dominated by shame, that they can’t believe they have made the same mistake again. They suffer despair and hopelessness. Some addicts have even committed suicide because they cannot stop berating and beating themselves up. Death seemed better than this continual beating up of self. Instead of verbally berating themselves, addicts must practice forgiving themselves. They must commit to practicing walking “as if” they are the person their destiny calls them to be—an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. Addicts who suffer chronic relapse have not mastered this critical recovery tool. Beating yourself up only exacerbates relapse potential and probability.

Six Simple Steps

People can relate to addressing shame through the use of metaphor. I like to use the metaphor of shame likened to a lion who hunts and stalks her prey. I suggest there are six simple steps to stalking the lion. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Each step will require ongoing conditioning and practice.

Step 1 – Recognize the nature of shame: Shame is like battery acid. When the acid is contained in the battery it is useful to start your car. Put the acid on your body and it will burn. When the energy of shame is directed to hurtful behavior it can be transformed into compassion. When it is directed to your sense of self, like acid, it will scar and mar. Shame is an energy that requires an addict to direct it away from self and to hurtful behavior. Only then can it be transformed into compassion and empathy.

Step 2 – Identify the presence of shame: Shame often appears in camouflage and is covertly operative. It can be concealed within the context of other feelings/behaviors, such as approval seeking and even show up as pain in your body. Recognition often requires journaling, meditation, and sharing your feelings with others. Shame can be carried from generation to generation through secrecy.

Step 3 – Identify shame’s message about you: The message of shame can become lost or garbled in your reactive response which can include defensiveness. Yet, the reactivity is triggered by an essential message about yourself that is provoked. This message is derogatory to your sense of self. Things that I tell myself in the moment that are destructive, “I’m not enough”, “I deserve to be abandoned”, or “I’m not worthy of love” are examples of shame messages.

Step 4 – Identify the Voice: Most often we track the voice as our own destructive messages. However, the message of shame is historic and can often be traced to primary-care givers. In order to redirect the shame you must recognize whose voice it is that is speaking the hurtful message down deep inside.

Step 5 – Redirect the energy of shame to its original source: Frequently, the message of shame comes from a source that is not even present in the here and now. The message and voice must be recognized if you are going to be able to marshal the direction of shame away from you and back to its original provider. Shame is nothing more than an energy source housed inside a personalized thought. Your assignment in this step is to direct the shame away from your sense of self and to its original source and the hurtful behavior. This can be done through emotion-focused letter writing, empty chair conversation, anger expressive work, and many other alternatives.

Step 6 – Conditioned listening and visualized action response: After I give back the shame to its originator, the negative voice of shame continues to stalk. Every addict must practice conditioning their inner ear to ignore the voice and to tune into the positive affirmative truth within that motivates a powerful response toward realizing a positive destiny in behavior. Stalking the shame demands a conditioned response established through ongoing practice.

The dynamic of shame is powerful in all of our lives. Addiction living kindles the flames of shame as much as any human condition. As an addict, I have found it important to reflect on the impact of shame throughout my experience in recovery. I give you these reflections in the form of poetry.

STALKING THE LION KING

There’s a lion and when he roars he’s telling me I ain’t no good—
It’s not just what I could but he’s bitching what I should.

Every day I look at the struggle I experience in every way—
the shame of the game that drives me insane
the sin—the stain—the emotional pain
a place where the guile and the denial of addiction flow like the river Nile.

I try to find the strength to say what I think—
to admit where I have been and say it straight—
there’s nothing left about me—
that once you know—
your only response is going to be hate.

Simba stalks me and reminds I can never measure up
Seems useless to try, do program, be true blue—I just want to give up—
My mind dances ‘cross the horizon of thought,
A.D.D. races on and on and drives me to absolute distraught.

I look into your eyes and see the hurt—
the disgust of betrayal
that incredulous sense—
that what was just told can’t possibly be real.

Innocent trust is gone—an irretrievable loss
Safety—warm embrace—are gone like clouds in my coffee
Triggered by double cross.
Shame and blame seem to be my one constant friend.
Agony, torture, gut-wrenching torment—
you’d think I’d never do it again.

Intrigue is a drunken dreamland—with bewitching charm—
It fades connection—
pushes peace so far away—
Ecstasy eats at reality—
Undaunted enchantment numbs with empty possibility
Playing charades all over again—
drags me back to where I started my day.

Like a hard-nosed hound, the lion never ends its chase
It lures me to the dance, as I look to hide my face
The monkey’s talkin’ trash in his deep clear voice
He talks about a paralyzed paradise–I quickly lose my choice.

I scream in remorse with self-condemnation
It seems to matter little
the junkie inside rules, craving total resignation.

I do it again and again, proving I’m dead inside.
I look at your red-rimmed eyes and wonder why I haven’t cried
But, the lion is roaring, though every time he’s lied.

Shame’s a game that gets played in your head
The chatterbox of blame, in the end, wishes you were dead
It’s acid that bleaches out what should be instead.

People wanna say you’re a Miracle of God
With scoff and scorn, the lion barks—you’ve always been flawed
The Monkey is master—powerfully Jones will always prod
He’s the shame that beats you down—
belittles and prompts that you’re the clown.

In darkness, the lion is prowling.