Support

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.

Chronic Relapse

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Over time I have observed addicts who have miraculously transformed and changed their lives. The changes have been like night and day. They are the ones who make 12-step meetings seem powerful and therapists look good. When you listen to their recovery program and see their results, you walk away wondering why doesn’t every addict do their program like that. 

Then you find some who do a similar program but don’t have the same results. Many times it is obvious that those who fail in their program do not “go to any length” to maintain sobriety and cultivate recovery growth. For those, the issue is whether or not they are willing to up the ante in their program to make it work, do more meetings, do a deep dive with 12-step work, increase therapy to resolve underlying issues of trauma and emotional pain, etc. In this mix, there are those in recovery who mean well and do well, but somehow don’t get the necessary traction to establish long-term sobriety. Essentially, they engage chronic relapse. 

Some “chronic relapsers” struggle to maintain 24 hours without their addiction. Others can go a week, month, or several months and not relapse. Some get to the outer limits of time in their sobriety and almost as if an alarm goes off and they tell themselves “It’s time to act out” and relapse occurs. Others can establish long-term sobriety in one addiction, like drugs or alcohol, but experience chronic relapse in other areas like sexual addiction. 

In discussing this pattern of relapse in recovery with a pioneer researcher and therapist around sexual addiction, the seasoned veteran stated that while partners of sex addicts demand absolute sobriety from their sexually-addicted partner, seldom does this prove the reality for the addict. 

There have been many attempts to address chronic relapse in 12-step programs such as moving the chronic behavioral failure from a bottom-line category of acting out to middle-circle behavior. However, there is no hiding from the problematic behavior, regardless of category placement. The behavior that is against values continues to progress and linger. People who truly shift their value system to include the behavior that was once considered relapse and is now considered high risk, usually are at peace with themselves regarding the behavior. However, if the experience of chronic failure is addiction behavior, it doesn’t matter what category you put the behavior, relapse and destructive behavior will continue to progress and intensify emotional pain. It’s a lot like trying to get a new look in your house by taking the old furniture and rearranging it but in the end, you still have old furniture with a different look.

Coming to terms with failure is an age-old problem for the addicted and non-addicted as well. I don’t have an answer as to why some addicts struggle more than others in establishing long-term sobriety. For sure there are many factors to consider. A key to addressing chronic failure in relapse is to focus on the task of self-care. For an addict, self-care is counterintuitive in the presence of relapse. When you have just acted out and screwed yourself in so many ways, the first thing you need to do is the last thing you are prone to do. Treating yourself with gentleness and being your own best friend seems preposterous when you simply want to scream and beat yourself up. Why? Because you failed. It’s common for some to scream and self-destruct in a cloud of smoke while others more subtly self-sabotage. 

In life, people work so hard to avoid facing failure. Yet failure is a part of every aspect of being human. We fear the judgment, the perceived ridicule, and the alienation that happens when we fail. In addiction, what is more important than a continued day count is the capacity to employ resilience when you fail to maintain sobriety. It’s the capacity to bring yourself back to the center of your values when you drift or act out. Knowing your resources and how to bring yourself back to your values is most important. Being able to stem self-criticism and re-focus on the next right thing is invaluable. Many addicts who work a strong program and some who white knuckle their way through the day, hang on without a protocol to bring themselves back to center when they act out. When this happens, they free fall toward oblivion in addiction. It’s been shown that those who free fall in this way have a much greater struggle with re-centering. Repeated failure with sobriety is the result.

Here is a suggested protocol for chronic relapse.

1. Admit your failure, do the next right thing which is always to take yourself out of harm’s way. Simply get away from your addiction. Destroy the substance, get away from the relationship, turn off the computer, etc. If you are sitting in the middle of a busy intersection and you just got run over by a bus, the first thing you need to do is to get out of the intersection.  Most likely you will need to reach out to a support person to get this done. 

2. As the Buddhists say “put yourself in the cradle of loving kindness.” Addicts live in self-deprivation even when they are sober. It is by grit and determination that many addicts stay sober. So when there is a failure, the energy of grit and determination is funneled into beating the hell out of yourself. Simply, it doesn’t work. It’s like dumping kerosene onto a fire. Yet, somehow addicts and other people who fail who are not addicts, think they have to continue eating the poison. So they abuse themselves with hurtful remarks and treat themselves with ongoing deprivation. They deprive themselves of gentleness, and support from others and covertly become mean to themselves embracing mistaken beliefs that spiral into repeated addictive or other destructive behavior. The slippery slope of relapse becomes black ice when an addict eats the poison and tells themselves they are a failure, a piece of shit who cannot do what others do to maintain sobriety. Depriving yourself of care and kindness leads to entitlement toward acting out in addiction. Sometimes you must take yourself by the nap of your neck and be kind to yourself even while kicking and screaming against it.

3. Affirm yourself. You say well “If I just shit all over myself, it’s pretty hard to tell myself to feel clean.” In 12-step work, there is talk about “fake it till you make it”. Overcoming chronic relapse means that I must treat myself in the way in which I aspire to be. I must act the way in the present that I hope to be in the future. To do this I must not allow feelings to dominate my actions. I affirm myself even when I feel like shit. I act my way into a new way of being. I cannot feel my way into this experience in recovery. When I am discouraged, I can afford the time to feel it but not when I am lying in the middle the intersection of addictive act out. I have to pick myself up, drag myself out of the intersection, and affirm myself when all I feel like doing is giving up. Affirmations are beliefs that must be practiced and conditioned regularly in my life, particularly when faced with failure. They are intended acts of self-care that are conditioned in unspectacular moments, often in the presence of despair and discouragement of chronic relapse.

4. Separate your sense of self from the relapse behavior. When you introduce yourself as an addict to a 12-step group, you are describing your behavior, not your sense of self. In truth, the behavior represents a small part of your life, albeit, a most destructive piece.  Relapse is always about behavior and never about who you are. Yet, shame says that relapse is about who you are. Your behavior and your sense of self are the same. Separating behavior from personhood is an art form that can only be curated through conditioning.  Experiential therapies can help create breakthrough experiences of release and relief, but you must do the unspectacular conditioning of separating behavior from self. This will require a lifetime commitment and a willingness to fail forward. It demands that you practice affirmations as a regular lifestyle. In all my years of recovery, I don’t know any other way. The benefit is self-acceptance in the presence of human failure. There’s a deep satisfaction of living in your own skin. There is an abiding awareness that I can go down and face failure and come back up. Some identify this experience as unconditional confidence. No matter what the result may be, I can accept and love myself. This requires daily practice not perfection. 

Chronic relapse can become a great teacher of spirituality in life. Some have suggested that spirituality is discovered by embracing the wounds in life. Wounds reveal vulnerability, weakness, and the capacity to recognize limitations. Chronic relapse is a wound that deepens authenticity when you accept that the wound contains the same common shared brokenness that everyone else in the world experiences. Self-acceptance in the presence of chronic relapse is the essence of human brilliance.

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. 

The Secret Life of Long-Term Sobriety, Part 1

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For many in recovery sobriety is a mystery.  A 12-step group usually starts with a prayer and often ends with clasped hands in a circle repeating in unison “It works if you work it and you’re worth it”. Over the years I have heard many addicts testify that in those same meetings, after all the good-declared intention, they acted out before they got home and sometimes even before they left the parking lot.

There is a great divide in reality at 12-step meetings. There are the haves and have-nots. Those who have sobriety and those who don’t. For many, sobriety is elusive. At times, after working hard to achieve sobriety, it can slip through the fingers in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. How are some able to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety while others cannot?

Over the next two blogs, I want to propose 11 keys that are vital to creating long-term sobriety:

1. A decision to stop no matter what it takes. This, like the ten other keys, seems like a no-brainer. Yet, through observance of the meetings I attend and the addicts I counsel, this key is often missing. I ask many addicts who come to do work at PCS if they are done with their addiction. I often get the reply “I’m here, aren’t I?” It’s almost as if somehow showing up to the PCS building would be magical and that the building and all the therapists will transform him or her from a raging addict to zen-like sobriety. Addicts can make a great therapist look inept or an average therapist into a rockstar. It all depends upon the attitude that he or she chooses. I recall my wife Eileen and I saying to each other that “we would hock our socks” to get healthy. That was about the reality that we had no funds for treatment. The decision was to do whatever it takes. Many addicts come to a 12-step meeting without a “white hot” intensity to transform their lives. They look for someone to give them something or to take care of them. It is common for some addicts to show up with an attitude of entitlement. Long-term sobriety requires something very simple: You must want to stop more than anything else in the world.

2. Be humble. You would think that an addict’s life of frustration and failure would result in humility. Yet, often this is not the case. Addicts present most frequently with arrogance. Some are full of conceit and presumption while others seem demure on the surface, but underneath are full of disdain and hubris. The truth is that practicing humility is a lifelong challenge. It requires charting a recovery course that includes holding your attitude and spirit accountable to group members. It demands that you put people in your life who role model humility. It is common for addicts in recovery to assume they won’t need to practice humility and lose their hunger for it. Often, addicts fall into a trap that they have done this work for so long that they do not need to embrace this fundamental component of recovery. This is where you fall into lapse or relapse behavior. You might not act out but for sure you will stop growing deep without humility.

3. Be coachable. I will never forget my earliest days in 12-step recovery. I would question the purpose of each step and present as cynical of the overall process. My sponsor, Chip, who was for the most part mild-mannered, cleared his throat and said “Ken, I think it would be in your best interest to shut up and just do what you were told to do”. This admonition hurt my feelings and was used to save my own life. It is rare to find an addict who is hungry to take guidance. Most of us think we can do this by ourselves. You can be inspired by others who testify about reaching out, but most of us don’t do this very well. This is true even though your best thoughts and actions got you into the addict-behavior mess you are in. With stubborn inflexibility, many addicts refuse to listen or take action from what they hear in a 12-step meeting. The doctor can write the prescription, but you have to take the medicine.

4. Live your recovery in consultation with accountability. There is an oft-repeated saying around 12-step groups, “If 8 or 9 people tell you that you have a tail . . .check your ass in the mirror!” Though humorous, there is important recovery wisdom here. Addicts don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They bristle with direct feedback. Yet there is no other way to establish long-term sobriety. It requires a shift in spirit and attitude. The reason a sponsor tells a sponsee to call them every day is to create the habit of living in consultation. Most addicts won’t do this. It contributes to shortsighted relapse. There is a difference between consultation and dependence. Recovery becomes a paradox. You are taught to consult, and in the end, every action you take in your life is about your choice and decision. Be accountable. Live in consultation with others. It cements long-term sobriety.

5. Don’t just do the steps. Learn to live them in commonplace experience. Addicts get overwhelmed trying to do the steps. Perfectionism is a contributing reason why some addicts stop before completing all the steps. Step 4 is particularly difficult. More addicts get stuck in Step 4 than any other step. Addicts think they have to do this monumental undertaking. It’s as if you must walk through burning coals and stay there until your sponsor permits you to step out. Step 4 is difficult. We don’t have to make it harder than it is. A thorough Step 4 is never complete. So, address a character flaw, even a few. Sit with it. Learn what you can in the moment of focus and then move on. It is important in recovery to understand we don’t do the 12 steps but we learn to embrace and apply them in the common places of everyday living. 

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 Enmeshment Dilemma: Where I Stop and You Begin

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Addicts in recovery get better… they aren’t cured. There is a spectrum of what constitutes better. Many addicts in recovery stop acting out with their drug of choice as a result of working a diligent program that involves peer support, therapy, and family reconstruction. However, it’s not 100%. Some never stop using and at best learn to reduce the harm of their addictive behavior. There are national coalitions that help develop strategies for overdose prevention and harm reduction education that are helpful in all forms of addictive behavior. 

Even when an alcoholic puts the cork in the bottle, many migrate to other more acceptable destructive behaviors like obsessive work, rage, or pleasing others. Addicts become obsessive in their attempts to craft a cocktail of addictive behaviors to fill in the hole that exists in their soul.

Enmeshment is a common underlying issue in the treatment of addictive behavior. It is a result of boundary violations in relationships.  It is the absence of differentiation and autonomy. Children in dysfunctional families become enmeshed in the pathology and are unable to individuate. Enmeshment becomes the bond that holds the family together. It is the personalization of another’s reality, problems, feelings, beliefs, and so on. Enmeshment grows from storied belief systems, family rules, and premises that provide protection and loyalty through denial and sometimes threats in a family system. It is the result of poor role modeling, abandonment, and neglect as well as other forms of abuse that exist in a family. Addicts repeat symptoms of enmeshment as an underlying attempt to resolve childhood dilemmas. It is repeated throughout life without conscious awareness. It becomes a significant obstacle in recovery that stymies an addict’s journey toward establishing self-esteem and intimacy. 

Enmeshment is intergenerational.  In other words, the family problems that existed in your family of origin are most likely to appear in your nuclear family and relationships. You may do the opposite from some problematic behaviors but essentially the dysfunctional behaviors are passed from one generation to another through denial and minimization. Here is an example, my grandfather (on dad’s side) died from alcoholism. He was a raging, mean alcoholic. My dad got religion and was a teetotaler. My brother David, died from alcoholism and cocaine abuse secretive to members of his family of origin. It was fueled by the denial of his nuclear family. Through denial, it is likely that the dysfunctional strategy of embracing the improbable and denying the obvious will be passed onto future generations. The thread that keeps the dysfunction alive is enmeshment. It is the primary basis for codependency, isolation, spiritual bankruptcy, and addictive behavior.

Enmeshment runs deep and is unlikely to be curable. My father learned to deal with his fear of abandonment from his father by protecting his mother. My grandfather would get drunk, come home, and try to kill my grandmother. My dad would try to protect his mother but was inevitably helpless. When his father finally left the household my dad quit school in the 8th grade to work to provide for his mother and siblings. All of my lifetime my dad had two to three jobs. He lived his life with the scarcity of never having enough. This became the intergenerational connection to my own workaholism. 

My mother tragically was involved in an accident at age 9. While playing with candles with her little sister who was 6, wind blew the flames onto the dress her sister was wearing and before help could be found her sister was badly burned and later died from her injuries. My mother believed she killed her sister. She became a very good baseball player in an attempt to seek her parent’s approval. Later she gave her life for service to the poor in an attempt to seek the approval of God. Both behaviors were pursued with extreme intensity. It’s the serious magnitude of pursuit that marks enmeshment. She needed to be more to keep from being less. She never learned where she stopped and others began. Though impacted by dementia in her dying days, one of her last statements of confusion related to being on time for a baseball game and a reference to having killed her sister. My mother’s compulsive care toward others became a root trigger of my own codependent behavior as a partner, parent, and professional. These roots are deep and most likely will take a lifetime to address. 

Enmeshment is manageable. While I seriously doubt that the depths of enmeshment will be cured, I do experience dramatic improvement toward 

self-management. I think the management of enmeshment is a proper focus and not a cure. I have been able to stop sexually acting out and curb my workaholism. I have not cured my enmeshment that is expressed through codependent behavior. I have been influenced by over one hundred years of codependent behavior from parents and my own practice. It is unlikely that I will have a “born again” experience around enmeshment. That said, I do not give license to allowing enmeshment to run hopelessly amok.  Here are some considerations that have been helpful in my recovery.

1. Practice setting internal boundaries around issues and areas of life where you are prone to lose yourself. In consultation clarify the achilles heel life experiences that trigger enmeshment. It could be your partner’s behavior, your kids’ safety, other people’s problems, etc. Internal boundaries focus on your recognition of limits. Verbalize those limits and your defined boundaries to others so they can hold you accountable as you manage your tendency to enmeshment. You will need their support to remain clear and remind you when you have crossed an internal boundary. Visualizing internal boundaries is like adjusting the focus on binoculars. You must pay attention to the pull of enmeshment or you will quickly lose focus. Recovery from enmeshment is a practice not a peak for perfection.

2. Make Step 3 an everyday lifestyle practice. In the Big Book, Step 3 is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Whether you identify with God or another energy source, managing enmeshment requires surrendering what you cannot control. It is a struggle simply to recognize your enmeshed behavior. You might be convinced that you are compassionately caring or standing for principle. However, upon reflection, you realize that you have got out of your lane and need to surrender your care or your insistence of being right because it is not about you. This will not be a one and done humbling experience. Some days it happens with multiple issues. It can be discouraging but it does require “turning it over” and getting back in your lane.

3. Practice humility. When your kids tell you they experience you as disconnected and absent when you spent your time worrying about money, profession, and the like—believe them! Don’t get defensive and try to help them understand. Just accept your shortcomings. You don’t want to hurt your kids but you did. It’s not always black or white. It doesn’t mean you are a schmuck even if you didn’t prioritize them when you were enmeshed with your work, seeking approval, or trying to fix something. I have learned that the best response to children’s experience is to validate and ask “How can I be supportive now.” Validation is not a brush over. It involves a genuine honest acceptance of your son or daughter’s experience of you.  

4. Accept that you are not perfect while being accountable. Mentally you can accept that you are not perfect in your recovery. However, translating this reality to your heart is no small chore. Recovery is about the journey and not about arriving. Your enmeshment behavior will teach you to embrace your real self if you will allow yourself to be accountable and coachable. 

5. Poise and perspective is the result of recovery practice. There is a tendency to look to wise old sages in recovery rooms with the perception that they have arrived. Yet, perspective that cultivates poise is gifted to the addict who understands that recovery from enmeshment is a journey, not a place to arrive.  Recovery creates your own identity separate from what you do for others. The antidote for enmeshment is identity. Recovery is a journey of recognizing that you are an unrepeatable miracle of God as you separate your being from  healthy and unhealthy behaviors. The more you identify being separate from your behaviors the less you will be stuck in the muck and mire of enmeshment.

Managing Zone Outs and Destructive Hits

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Ever since the measure of time, moving through the Industrial Age and beyond, we have quantified life by the clock. We have burgeoned into a culture that has become obsessed with filling up time with endless busyness. In his book, Space, Time and Medicine, Larry Dossey coined the term “time sickness” to describe the obsessive belief that time is getting away, there is not enough of it, and you must pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with it.  It has germinated the disease of “more”, which rivets the mind with incessant thoughts that we have to do more to keep from being less.

In our culture, there is a race to be the best. The rush to be the best lessens quality control. Accidents all over the world like Chernobyl and the space shuttle Challenger demonstrate that driven rush and fatigue negatively affect quality control. Yet, our culture remains obsessed with doing more and more in less time. At some point, this frenzy demands a sedative for all. The human condition is not capable of living with a tightening scrutiny that squeezes more productivity from every waking second. We’re now seeing an uptick in stress-related diseases such as insomnia, hypertension, asthma, and gastrointestinal diseases.

Job stress contributes to untold numbers of Americans missing work. City life increases the pace by ramping up pressure to perform. All this pressure causes people to mistakenly believe that somehow doing more means being more. It is no wonder there is an uptick in zoning out from all the turmoil and stress. Zoning out while driving is a real problem. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving, mounting to 1.6 million crashes each year, and nearly 390,000 injuries according to the National Safety Council. Online porn during working hours is another zone out that threatens productivity during working hours. Some surveys suggest that more than 60% of men have looked at porn during work hours in the past 3 months at the risk of it being career-ending.  

To survive this rush of activity, booster drugs have become popular, even necessary for some. Through the years, I have seen a growing number of professionals who rely upon uppers and downers to get through their fast-paced day. Nursing and pharmaceutical students often fall prey to amphetamines such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta in order to ignore the fatigue and get through their day. Then, they rely upon benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium or alcohol to come down from the high. Opioid use in our country is even more widespread.

This perfect rendezvous fits most addicts like a glove. You can never do enough to keep from being less. This crazed thought pattern becomes the necessary fuel to numb out with the various cocktail of addictions that our mind creates . . . and we create many! Addicts who do not pay attention to hits and situations that trigger fantasy are vulnerable to engaging in their drug of choice. Relapse prevention requires conscious awareness in situations that trigger the temptation to zone out. Here are a few suggestions to manage destructive hits and zone outs every addict faces.

#1: Become aware of your mistaken beliefs that activate your zone out. Mistaken belief will trigger your desire to zone out in a destructive way. Addicts must know their mistaken beliefs like the back of their hand. Not if, but when triggered they must recognize what is happening around them that triggers the hit. Financial pressure, shame engaged because of relationship problems, loneliness, etc. are examples of issues that activate mistaken beliefs that lead to zoning out through addictive behavior. You will need to practice addressing those triggers with life-affirming positive beliefs that propel you toward connection and intimacy-abling behaviors.  

#2: Pay attention to the way in which you mask anticipating rejection and victim posturing. It is easy to mask unwanted feelings and thoughts with compensating behaviors. You may be a great parent, professional, and person in a hundred different ways. This is great! That said, it is important that you don’t use these strengths to avoid addressing ways that you are dominated by mistaken beliefs that fuel anticipation of rejection from those you want approval from and times when you are stuck with “woe is me, I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” Victim posture is a dynamic that ultimately leads to zoning out in destructive ways. Avoid your victim stance by reframing your experience so that you empower yourself with possibility rather than remaining stuck without power and with vulnerability to addictive urge. 

#3: Be alert to ways that you isolate and fantasize. It can be a good thing to step back and think of something pleasant after a particularly demanding and exhausting day. However, addicts must be on the alert to cravings and urges to escape discomfort and desires to medicate. Telling on yourself to another addict is a way to avoid isolation. Utilizing a 3-second rule, that requires interruption of addictive fantasy after 3 seconds, is a pattern interrupt that will help you ground yourself into reality in the moment.

#4: Be accountable and live in consultation toward your tendency to cruise and groom your thinking toward acting out. Cruising is putting yourself in harm’s way with your addiction. People, places, and mind-states trigger hits toward acting out. If you are sitting in the middle of a busy intersection and a bus is barreling toward you, first get your ass out of the road! No time to review How did I get here, and other questions. The same is true for managing an urge to addictively act out. Engage whatever pattern interrupt you must do to remove yourself from harm’s way. Have a list of support people you can call. Consult with another addict in recovery.  Once done, you can trace back to ways in which you groomed yourself with addictive rationale to place yourself in harm’s way.

Addicts must be alert to what disconnects them from feelings and relationship to self and others. Zoning out can be helpful but often is harmful for addicts who do not practice recovery awareness. It is important that addicts don’t forget the old adage “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you will get a haircut!”

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.

Your Feelings and Thoughts Do Make a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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