self-reflection

Step 2: The Step That Creates Humility in the Presence of Willful Self Destruction

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“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” 

“It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.” Soren Kierkegaard

In 12-step addiction recovery, the phrase “self will run riot” is cataloged and documented in our first step focuses on the out-of-control and unmanaged behavior that dominates our lives. Step 2 is an invitation to step back, take a deep breath, and examine the carnage that you created through the eyes of your spirit. 

In recovery, spirituality is a very difficult concept to embrace. It asks of you to consider opposites. So, in order to win it encourages you to lose; to be in control, it asks that you let go, to know is to humbly embrace what you don’t know. At times, it seems like trying to nail jelly to a tree. You talk about your spiritual experience in a support community. At the time, it seems so meaningful and then later it seems so difficult to make sense from what was then helpful. The worthwhile dialogue gets fuzzy in your head. Wisdom and learning can be this way.

Examining what I need to relinquish in order to gain sobriety and serenity requires introspection and deep honesty with self. Letting go of what I cannot control demands courage and integrity to the values that go deeper than the grip of what I am afraid to lose. Embracing what you do not know requires that you be willing to sit with uncertainty and the insecurity that comes from things around you being impermanent. There are no cookbook recipes or formulas that are universal for you or anyone else to do in life. You have to figure it out yourself. Kurtz and Ketcham in their book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, compared spirituality to the mortar that holds a fireplace together. The metaphor invokes that you consider what it is that you are truly counting on to hold your life together. Upon reflection, as a Christian, I knew the appropriate response would be Jesus. Yet, spirituality required me to go deeper with honesty. Careful examination revealed that what I really depended upon when cornered by life’s demands, is that I would work my ass off. Then I would dress it up with religious words. Nothing wrong with working hard. Nonetheless, spirituality beckoned me, to be honest with self. This is the heart of spirituality. 

Spirituality can be unnerving. Some identify their spirituality with a relationship with God. Others think it to be Jesus. Some even re-work the steps and put Jesus’ name in many of the steps. Others think spirituality centers around Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, the Great Spirit, Pachamama, Mother Nature, higher power, higher self, unknown creative force, life force energy of the universe, and even the tree in the backyard. Annie Parisse said, “One man’s cult is another man’s religion.” Spirituality wraps around and through all of these concepts. Even, the word itself is limited. It is just a vocabulary word which does rankle some. Atheists do not believe in God and many are bothered by the very word spirituality. Surely, with the thousands of words in our vocabulary, there can be another word to embrace this dynamic. Spirituality does require vulnerability—looking at yourself from the inside/out. It implores you to become emotionally naked to yourself and amazingly expands when you share this with others. Why others? Others mirror back to you your own bullshit. Seeing your own bullshit in others becomes an invite to a deeper, more clear spirituality within.

Spirituality is found in the wound of human failure. Entangled with the wound is the powerful shackle of shame that wraps itself around the spirit like an infectious worm. Defeat and desolation from addictive acts become compost for cultivating humility, a cardinal component of spirituality. It is by fertilizing Step 2 and nourishing your spirit that later in Step 9 we make amends from the compassion for others spawned from Step 2. Spirituality is the ingredient that forms an antibiotic for conceit and arrogance. It combats self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and the pride that denies need which is the root of all our struggles. In a strange turn of events, the Step 2 process takes the broken condition of addiction and connects it to every other human tribulation. We are all one. Through this epiphany, we look to a greater spiritual dynamic to address the limiting “crack” so common to us all. I have often queried addicts about which part of their destructive behavior is the most difficult to face—the consequences, the realness of a loved one’s painful screams, etc. Once identified, I suggest this to be the place to set up shop and cultivate spirituality—in the wound. It is in the scrubbing of shame (the wound) in this most painful place that spirituality is fostered and nourished.

Spirituality is about oneness and unity. It is about a relationship between equals. It is about recognizing the shared life force within all living things. We are one: Catholic, Jew, Pentecostal, fundamentalist, atheist, animal and plant—we are all one. Differences for sure. Yet, connected with like-kindness so often obscured. Spirituality creates compassion for yourself in the midst of destructive behavior which cultivates compassion for the weakness of others. You become one with every “sinner”.  So the victim of destructive addictive behavior is one with the perpetrator because we are all one in common shared weakness. Essentially, we all offend and this common thread of paradox creates spirituality. Spirituality becomes a necessary ingredient for accountability. If we all offend, not just the addict, then it stands to reason that holding each other accountable is necessary to create safety in community. It becomes the glue that holds the parts of recovery together.

Spirituality is a pilgrimage, not a destination. It always encompasses the terrain of personal struggle and failure. Spirituality does not travel the same line that a crow flies. It takes a very circuitous journey. It includes winding, up and down, backtracking, getting lost, criss crossed paths and starting all over. Spirituality looks like a picture of a labyrinth that a kindergartener has scribbled all over. Spirituality finds meaningfulness in the experiences of each day versus the amount of growth or “distance” gained. Joseph Campbell states “When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey”. In recovery, it is not the days counted as “success” or those experienced as “failure” but rather it is the journey that we take that is underscored as being spiritual, not the desired destination. 

Spirituality is about community. St. John of the Cross, a mystic, said that the soul who exists outside of community is like a lone coal away from the fire which soon grows cold. You are a social creature that needs connection for spirituality to thrive. Spirituality helps to adapt and to learn flexibility. You will learn to hold fast to what is in the “now” for you never know where your spirituality might take you. In your recovery life, you will notice that it is not a pilgrimage that marches straight ahead because we always have many twists and turns, ups and downs. Those who seek to do it perfectly either fail miserably or become so wound tight that eventually, they explode. Learning to accept your own recovery failure and get up and keep going is the perspective that anchors spirituality. How far you have come pales in comparison to how far you have yet to go. Spirituality gives birth to hope when you face the unknown in that you know that you are not alone in this struggle or in facing your human failure. Your struggle is exactly what someone else will need to do the next right thing and their failure is exactly what you will need to give you hope in knowing that you are not alone. This is reality spirituality.

In truth, spirituality does not lead to all the answers. It helps to embrace and engage the questions with genuine honesty. It promotes a beginner’s mind and will help you to become teachable. Step 2 fosters spirituality through the embrace of paradox in the contest of everyday common places of life.

Self Defeating Illusions

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“Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure.” — John Legend

People love to indulge in fantasy about the rich and famous, the powerful, sensational murders, and other human tragedies. Entertainment media shows, like TMZ, provide titillation that whets the appetite of millions. Tabloids as old as the National Inquirer and more recent as Page Six or Perez Hilton provide tidbits of gossip to satisfy the insatiable palate of those who keep the paparazzi thriving in business. There is an illusion that if somehow you can know the intimate details of someone else’s fame, fortune, or tragedy you can live vicariously through them. 

This form of fantasy is a self-defeating illusion that leads to empty living. When you blink your eyes and wake up to reality you realize that your life is in no way close to what you spend much of your time daydreaming about. 

One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside and feeling like an imposter. This would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic and true to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As novelist Richard Rohr put it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self.” (Immortal Diamond)

There is always a struggle to separate your True Self from your False Self. True Self is what you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of God. It is that divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny. The False Self is the image you put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you. 

There are “wannabes” in every social setting. There are wannabe recovering addicts, wannabe marketers, wannabes around the rich and famous called “groupies” etc. The truth is that there is a kind of wannabe in every person in existence. 

The question is am I willing to fulfill what is required to be the person I wanna be? Many of us prefer to live in fantasy and delusion. So if I am 5’7” tall it is unlikely that I will ever become a star in the NBA. That said, I won’t have a problem sitting in the middle seat of an airplane either, whereas it is a nightmare for the NBA player. When you live in fantasy it is difficult to sift and sort what is real. Your False Self identifies with the imposters around you. When you are not your True Self, you feel inadequate and ill-equipped to be authentic. It has been my experience that when you are real and genuine, you feel and even fit better in your own skin. Like in The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the rabbit —the “real never rubs off, it lasts forever.  A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person hyper-vigilant from a fear of being caught not measuring up. It triggers people to get stuck with image management. When you ground yourself in your genuine, authentic True Self, you let go of these anxiety-producing behaviors. You feel more at peace. 

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

There are many strategies to help you anchor yourself in your authentic self and avoid getting stuck in self-delusion

#1: Manage Paradox. While congruent living is the goal, the reality is that everyone is inconsistent, incongruent, and hypocritical in some ways. I have not known an addict in recovery who has always been consistent with every recovery task. Paradoxically, authenticity is about recognizing failures, personal flaws, shortcomings and accepting the reality of being human.  For many people, confusion and uncertainty trigger incongruent living and hypocrisy.  The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition.  Paradoxically, the way to become anchored and centered in values is to recognize that the opposite is not only possible within you but is real. The beginning of managing unwanted traits that exist within you is to recognize and accept their presence. Only then will you be able to manage your false self and anchor to your true self.

#2: Live in consultation with accountability. When incongruent, inconsistent, or hypocritical behavior appears, you’ll want to have someone or a group hold you accountable. Consultation is foreign to most addicts. In seclusion, they make every decision and have learned to depend only upon themselves. Their best thinking may have gotten them stuck in destructive behavior but it is familiar territory and is difficult to change.

The strength of accountability keeps human weakness in check and can be humbling when the reality of shortcomings sets in. So, rather than impersonate sobriety or serenity, an addict in recovery can humbly confess their shortcomings knowing that the power of accountability will call them back to a centered, congruent life. 

#3: Authentic living requires listening to what’s inside. Feelings are magic and prescient. When you listen to your feelings and not try to escape they will provide the wisdom and understanding of not only who you are but also how to express who you are. Pay attention to your deepest desires. When you feel hollow inside ask what would bring fulfillment to you. 

What brings exhilaration and enjoyment? What do you know, deep inside, that you can be really good at? What is it that sometimes burns within you to be expressed or done? The answers to what we can be, what we must be, come from within through asking ourselves these questions. It comes through listening to your feelings. Learn to not avoid whatever you feel. The solution to your pain and frustration, however valid, is to acknowledge your feelings. Learn to sit and listen to unwanted feelings like shame, anger, hate, grief, loneliness, and anxiety. Embrace and feel every one of them. Once you validate their truth let go and find peace within yourself. The process is not assembly-lined. The deeper the hurt, the longer the process. Yet when you go deep with listening to what is inside you will gain wisdom for the next step in your life. Happiness is not controlled by another person, even though we may have convinced ourselves it is. You will only experience true happiness when you learn to listen to what is inside. Listen to your feelings.

#4: Practice Telling on yourself. To preserve your True Self, practice telling on yourself. For addicts at 12-Step meetings, once you tell everyone your deepest, darkest, most shameful secret and feel the acceptance of those attending, it is difficult to return and tell the same people that the behavior you committed to not doing—you did again. There is a fear of rejection and embarrassment even though you are in a room full of addicts. If you have had weeks or years of sobriety, and have become a sponsor or a trusted servant in the meetings, there is even greater fear of rejection if you need to honestly disclose that you have been acting out against your values. It is difficult to tell on yourself. Yet it is absolutely necessary in order to establish congruency. Beyond the confession, what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to recenter and live a sober life. 

The same dynamic is true for an entrepreneur who has announced a bold declaration but has miserably failed to follow through. You will need to come clean with yourself and a selected group of support in order to reclaim your true authentic self. Although being your True Self takes hard work, it is the only way to establish the confidence needed to build an authentic foundation and avoid getting stuck in self-defeating illusions.

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.

Only the Lonely

“Only the lonely, Know the heartaches I’ve been through-Only the lonely-Know I cry and cry for you.”
(Roy Orbison “Only the Lonely” lyrics)

Loneliness drives escapism. In an unsettled world there are a million different reasons to want to avoid reality. Traumatic experiences in home life can trigger the desire to travel anywhere but home to escape further stress and psychological harm. More than 15 million Americans suffer loneliness attributed to major clinical depression. Many will do anything to escape the dregs of emptiness, loneliness and anxiety that come with it. However, a temporary new environment is not the cure. Often, when this form of escape through travel is done impulsively, there’s a greater likelihood that symptoms will rebound or return even stronger than before. Lonely older adults are twice as likely to be prescribed an antidepressant compared to adults reporting no loneliness (27% vs 14%). This indicates that medication alone is not a cure to the challenge of loneliness.

Most addicts suffer from loneliness. For many, home was disastrous, chaotic, totally abusive and unsafe. People need to belong, experience sanctuary and be treated with dignity and respect. Addicts run from the fear that if they slow down they will have to face the anxiety and terror of coming home to themselves. The experience is devastating. For those who do not come to terms with loneliness, it is a shadow that follows and never releases its grip. Addicts in recovery must learn to manage the experience of loneliness. It is a major trigger for relapse. Here are a few considerations to help you work with this common malady that affects everyone.

1. Practice coming home to yourself: Addicts learn to lose themselves with busyness and activities that distract from the discomfort of anxiety and other difficult emotions. Thich Nat Hanh stated that sitting is an act of revolution. In the presence of the urge to rush and be active, it is counterintuitive to sit with your feelings. However, sitting with your feelings will cultivate awareness. It helps to separate your thoughts and emotions from your true nature. As some say, sitting helps you to see your true nature to be like the sky and your feelings and thoughts to be like the clouds that come and go away. Coming home to yourself is a way of connecting with yourself and accepting what is.

2. Quiet the clamor and clutter by putting away your electronic devices for a definite period of time each day. It has been said that in America, the average person spends 7 hours looking at a screen each day. Your computer and cell phone distract you from being connected with yourself. You would think social media would help you to connect with others. However, it is an illusion that social media helps you to connect with others when you do not connect with yourself. Technology does not help reduce loneliness. Take time each day to turn off your phone and all other technology each day to cultivate conscious awareness. Make it a deliberate act.

3. Connect with the here and now. Distractions keep you from being present. You might be doing something important but your mind is somewhere else. People go through their life distracted without being connected to the present moment. Poet T.S. Eliot penned “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Many people will never experience this reality in reflection because they don’t know how to connect to the present moment. Don’t allow yourself to live a life of distraction from the here and now.

4. Go Inside. Loneliness is about feeling disconnected from others. You won’t connect with others until you connect with yourself. Becoming a social butterfly can make you popular with many acquaintances. Yet, you can be lonely in a crowd of people. Loneliness will disappear when you go inside. Learn to become an island to yourself. Buddhists teach that you go inside yourself through the in-breath and the out-breath. Hahn says that you tidy your home within by going inside. This is where you calm your spirit and connect with yourself. It all begins by cultivating a lifestyle of going inside.

5. Make peace with your loneliness. There is a wounded child within each of us that needs to be recognized and embraced. Loneliness is magnified when you busy yourself with activity and neglect the pool of pain that exists within you. People try to minimize this pain by comparing their life experience with others. This only isolates the wounded child and intensifies loneliness. Coming home requires that you focus on healing your wounded child.

6. Liberate yourself from the prisons of the past. Addicts live with a vacuum inside that makes them uncomfortable connecting with others. Their wounded child has been betrayed and let down by others. They don’t trust themselves or others. Dominating their brain are mistaken beliefs that keep them inside an emotional prison. Liberation requires an act of daily forgiveness which simply means that you will not hold this egregious destructive behavior against yourself any longer. Every day you come home to yourself and make this agreement. You then walk away from destructive behavior and embrace healing and practice being helpful to others. Addicts who choose to live this way liberate themselves from loneliness effectively. They learn to use their eyes to look at others with compassion and eliminate criticism.

I Can’t Believe What I Just Did!—Relapse

“Slowly I began to recognize that many of the boxes I found myself in were boxes of my own making.”— Melodie Beattie

Relapse isn’t a reality for every addict. Yet, for most, it has happened. Once sober you tell yourself ‘never again’ and you mean it. You’ve tasted the sweetness of sobriety and you shake your head wondering how did you ever think acting out was a better life? Yet, it happened! At first, it seemed like it was out of the blue. You had been doing so good. Then it felt like someone pulled the rug out from under you. Cravings hit you like a big Mac truck. It didn’t come out of the blue but it just as well had. You were not prepared nor paying attention to the details of your recovery life and there you were—acting out again!

The taste of acting out is bitter. There are times it makes your mouth dry as cotton. There is a sick feeling in your stomach. Sometimes you wonder how it could possibly have happened. Yet it did. There are cascading self-accusations that rattle in your brain like a machine gun. You feel overwhelmingly down and discouraged. The hangover from acting out leaves you feeling dull with brain fog. You walk through life activities hollow inside feeling dreamlike about the experience. You know you have to tell on yourself but you want to lie and keep it all a secret. How do I ever rebound from such an awful place?

Here are steps back to center that you must consider:

1. Admit the obvious. Addicts learn from their family of origin to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. They are great at pretending. When you relapse you must tell on yourself and be accountable to your support group including your partner. This is where you wobble. You can tell people in your 12-step group but my partner?! Are you kidding me? Secrets and dishonesty are breeding grounds for addiction behavior to flourish. Best to tell support people in 12-step recovery before you disclose to your partner so that you don’t minimize what you did in relapse. To do otherwise risks creating a disclosure disaster. Hold your feet to the fire and tell on yourself.

2. Do the next right thing. This is obvious but bears underscoring. The next right thing is to get yourself out of harm’s way. Address vulnerability to continue acting out by reaching out in a 12-step meeting and/or recovery friend. Lay it out in living color exactly what happen. Don’t piecemeal your truth. Let the love and acceptance of the group or support person become a shroud you wear. You have hurt yourself and are wounded. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to face consequences. It is important that you surround yourself with love, support, and genuine care in the presence of white hot truth-telling.

3. Do an autopsy on your relapse behavior. Once you’re out of harm’s way and surrounded by support, figure out how relapse happened. If you don’t, be prepared to do it again. Examine program neglect: (1) stopped going to meetings: (2) isolated—not telling on yourself to group/sponsor or support; (3) stopped doing the steps because of busyness; (4) procrastinated facing a truth that you don’t want to face; (5) wallowed in shame, resentment, loneliness, anger, hate; (6) marinated in mistaken beliefs that block intimacy and sabotage recovery. Do the work of unpacking how you put yourself in the box that led to your relapse. If you can figure out how you got into the relapse box, you can figure out how to get out.

4. Fortify your commitment to recovery: Once clear about why you acted out, fortify taking the next healing steps. Create filters that will keep you from porn and acting out. Don’t just put a cork in the bottle, get rid of all alcohol in the house. These are examples of next right steps. How many times have I heard addicts confess to relapse with no plan for next right steps. When you fortify your commitment to recovery, next right steps become obvious.

5. Act on positive self-affirmation regardless of how you feel. When you relapse and feel like all hell has broke loose, it’s hard to take yourself by the nape of the neck and pull yourself from the mud hole you created. You can only do this with determination to act on treating yourself as you hope to be. It is painful but you must forgive yourself and let go of the negative feelings that accompany relapse behavior. These steps are always painful. As you act in the way your destiny beckons, the painful shameful messages will fall away in time. You will become congruent merging your behavior to positive beliefs about self.

6. Don’t let the little boy/little girl run your inner life. You cannot expect a small child to figure out addiction. Shame dominates in relapse behavior because we empower the little boy/girl to make adult decisions about recovery. Put in charge, the inner child will conclude that you are a piece of shit who is destined to never get it right so why try. This is because a little child is unable to navigate the narrows of addiction recovery. However, when you take the reins of responsibility and place them in the hands of the powerful adult in you, the results are dramatically different. As an adult, you can face consequences of destructive choices, choose to care for self, and hold your feet to the fire of bringing yourself back to center. It will require the adult-you to fend off the negative shameful messages and to embrace and act on positive affirmations that will fulfill the destiny of sobriety.

Relapse is always found in the box of your own making. Hopefully, these steps will help you step out of the box and take steps toward solid sobriety and deepened serenity.

Trapped in Negative Thinking

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Addicts are plagued with stinking thinking. They are not the only ones. Addicts learn to stop acting out with their drug of choice. However, many who have put a cork in the bottle are still badgered with negative beliefs that sabotage serenity.  

Addicts wallow in past memories, wishing that things were different. In recovery, many “future trip”, focus on how things will be when sobriety and stability is achieved. Everybody grapples with staying in the present moment, but this is difficult when you don’t like where you are. Mistaken beliefs about self and the world flourish when addicts get stuck focusing on the past or future. 

Most addicts say they just want to be happy. However, happiness depends upon positive conditions. Yet, this cannot always be controlled. In the life of an addict, the results of addictive behavior have a life of their own. Trust is broken and lives have been destroyed. Often, once the havoc is wreaked, there is no going back to fix things. Relationships are devastated regardless of achieved sobriety. Loved ones have had enough! 

People who are not addicted cannot control the conditions for happiness either. For example, loved ones die unexpectedly. Tragedy and heartache happen outside of your control, too! The chase for happiness becomes an illusion because you cannot govern all of the outside factors that contribute to happiness. Your efforts to create happiness are fragile at best. Negative thinking is overcome by seeking inner peace rather than happiness. Inner peace is controlled from within.

Struggle and adversity leave an addict feeling empty and without happiness. It is possible to create inner peace in the presence of unhappiness. Addicts can transform limitation, failed recovery, broken families, and relapse into their greatest teacher. This stabilizes long-term sobriety. They transform emptiness into serenity with perspective and stability.  

Last year, I spent time with friends in their mountain home. We visited someone who modeled peace. He was a campground host and recovering alcoholic. He spoke about past losses and hurt, yet now exuded with enthusiasm, joy, and peace. During a tour of the campground, he underscored how appreciative he was to have such stunning views of the mountains that were nearby. He was excited to show us his small camping trailer. At the end of the tour, he declared that he was the luckiest man alive and that he was living the life he had always hoped. 

Upon reflection, he seemed to radiate an inner peace that was opposite of the negative thinking that dominated his addictive behavior earlier in his life. He talked about being present in the moment with his thoughts which brought him peace. He learned to block out the negative thoughts from the past and anchored his thoughts to the present moment. As I listened to him share, I thought of the many people who had so much more in personal possessions but who were stuck in negative thinking about needing more to keep from being less. When you discipline yourself to be in the present moment, negative thinking is countered with inner peace.

When you lose a loved one or must face your own demise, it is impossible to be happy about the misfortune. But, you can be at peace as long as you have released grasping for things and conditions you cannot control. In recovery, maybe you won’t be able to be with the family you thought would be there for you, but you can have peace. You may face a dramatic change and limitation in your life because of illness or financial restraints. Economic reversals and poor health will never trigger happiness. Yet, peace can be attained within when you let go of negative beliefs by simply embracing the here and now.

Peace comes in the present moment, not the past or future. Anxiety and worry accelerate when you fret about what might happen in the future or lament about a past action. Addicts tell themselves that bad things happen because they deserve it. They create movies in their head that reinforce destructive experiences from the past. They tell themselves they don’t have what it takes to live a sober, serene, and successful life. Their negative thinking sabotages good results in their life and prevents them from being present in the here and now. They become their negative thoughts. This contributes to relapse behavior and impairs the possibility of peace in the present moment. Addicts get stuck and are unable to separate themselves from the negative voice in their heads. 

You stop negative thoughts by learning to sit in life experience as it is whether pleasant or unpleasant. In recovery, you learn to connect with yourself without judgment and without clinging to the past or grasping for the future. You must learn to accept what is, right now. Your sense of self is different from your life situation. When you learn to be friendly with the present moment, you begin to make peace rather than embrace negative thoughts that treat the present moment as an enemy. In 12-step groups, addicts learn to separate their sense of self from their negative thoughts. When this happens an addict can embrace the present moment. They create inner peace and discover the brilliance of who they really are. The trap of negative thinking is resolved by practicing being present in the here and now.