surrender

Caged

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“The saddest feeling is knowing you deserve freedom and still feeling caged.” – Janelle Gray

It is common for people to feel like they live in a cage. Worldwide some people feel caged by repressive governmental regimes. Sometimes, moms feel caged trying to do the heroic task of raising children. Addicts feel caged as do entrepreneurs. Steve Jobs remarked, “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

That said, many of us still do. We become enmeshed and stuck comparing our insides to other people’s outsides, wishing we were something other than who we are. People get stuck on the hamster wheel, not getting off even when they recognize the endless futility of it all. Like the hamster, they feel caged!

There’s a famous Rumi story repeated by many over the centuries of time. “Once upon a time, there was an Indian trader who went to Africa to acquire some local products and animals. In the jungle, he saw many colorful talking parrots. He decided to capture a talking parrot and take him back as a pet.

At home in India, he kept his parrot in a cage, fed him honey and seeds, and treated him very well. When it was time for the man to return to Africa, two years later, he asked his parrot if there was any message he could deliver to his friends in the jungle. The parrot told him to convey to his friends that he was very happy in his cage and to pass on his love.

When the man arrived in Africa, he delivered the message to the other parrots in the jungle. Just as he finished his story, a parrot with tears welling in his eyes fell over dead. The man was very alarmed but he thought the parrot must have been very close to the parrot in the cage and this was probably the reason for his sadness and death.

When the man returned home to India, he told his pet parrot what happened. As he finished his story, the pet parrot’s eyes welled up with tears and he kneeled over dead in his cage. The man was astounded but he figured that his pet died from the grief of hearing the death of his close friend in the jungle. He opened up the cage and tossed the dead bird onto the trash heap.

Immediately, the pet parrot flew up to a branch on the tree outside. The trader said to him “So you are not dead after all, why did you do that? You tricked me.” The parrot responded, “The bird back in Africa sent me a very important message.” “What was the message?” the man asked. He told me, “If you want to escape from your cage, you must die while you are still alive.”

This idea of dying while you are alive is a paradox reflected on by spiritual leaders around the world. Jesus once said “You have to die to self daily, and by dying you actually live (Luke 9:23) and the Apostle Paul referenced that he must “die daily.” What does this metaphor mean? How do you die while you are still alive? 

The third step of the Twelve Steps in Recovery gives insight. It says “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The implication is to surrender and to let go of what you cannot control. What you cannot control is other people and the world around you. Letting go to a God as we understood Him is problematic. What if you don’t believe in conventional perceptions of God and reject the very word “God”, let alone feeling offended that someone might reference all of what God might mean to “Him”? It all seems so problematic! Yet the oft repeated Serenity Prayer proclaims “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Accepting what I cannot change requires a certain metaphorical death while you are still alive. Acceptance of what you cannot change means to let go of what you want different!

A Christian woman the late Corrie Ten Boom used to talk about letting go with palms down and fingers spread wide so that she could not hold on to anything! The concept of God is what you can control. Do the Step 2 work in digging within and figuring out what you understand about God. Perhaps it is very different from all conventional ideas. Perhaps you will reject the name God and all accompanying ideas of its meaning. Perhaps, you will conclude that you are atheist and want nothing to do with the word spirituality. Your conclusions are helpful and you can be clear for you. That said, there still lies the dilemma of dying daily while you are still alive. There remains things you cannot change. You must let go and you can by going within your existence and summoning the necessary help from self and others to let go! It seldom is one and done—thus, those who speak of dying daily! 

The prayer pleads for “The courage to change the things I can” which always are many! Dr. Angela Davis declared that she is “No longer accepting the things she cannot change.” She is changing the things she cannot accept. This is where courage to change comes into play. It always costs to embrace courage to change what you can. As an adult when you die to what you cannot control, there is a demand to courageously change what you can! The prayer suggests this two-fold process— let go (die to) and embrace responsibility for you. The energy and wisdom of a group community and the anchoring of private practice is necessary to fulfill this adult assignment. The prayer is tough to actualize but necessary. Dying while you are still alive will manufacture humility. When you don’t embrace Step 3, you will manifest a certain degree of arrogance— that is, I will rely upon my willfulness in a situation rather than surrender. Don’t be surprised if you don’t have another parrot in the cage you created. 

Questions:

  1. What life experience has become a cage that you feel trapped?
  2. What would it look like to die while you are still alive in this experience?
  3. What is it that you clearly cannot change and what is it that you must courageously do to experience the promise of peace about your caged experience? 

When You Know to Let Go But You Can’t

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If you are an addict you know to let go of your drug of choice but you can’t. The junkie worm tells you just one more time! When you are an entrepreneur giving birth to your dream service or product, there comes a time when you know you need to let go of the reins. You need to empower others so that you can do what only you can do for this business, but you don’t let go. You think others won’t do it the way you do it. 

Workaholics live life with their knickers twisted way too tight. They get stuck doing more to keep from being less. Mothers struggle to let go of the care of their children to others fearing they will not do it as effectively or that the needed bonding will be incomplete or broken. They know to let go but they can’t. 

Adult children enmeshed with parents who are no longer able to care for themselves, know to reach out for assisted living but don’t because they cannot handle the perceived hurt and painful harm the move would create. So they remain stuck, trying to care for them alone, unable to let them go to a professional care that is better.

Kids go away to college and create empty nests at home while parents struggle and often don’t let go of the past but hang on to yesterday’s experiences.

Families faced with the tragedy of a loved one who suffered irreparable harm from an accident or physical illness know to let go and turn off the ventilator but they can’t.

Seniors faced with retirement knowing it’s time to turn the page and shut it down, but cannot. Partners of addicts facing betrayal and who know the relationship is over and need to pull the plug but they can’t.

Everyday life presents a menagerie of possibilities that insist on choices to let go. But, what do you do when you cannot?

Here is a list of tools to help you let go of what you cannot control:

1. Look at yourself in the mirror to face reality. The mirror may be that of another trusted friend who clearly sees what you do not want to look at or are simply blind to. Sometimes you need several mirrors. As the old saying applies, if eight friends tell you that you have a tail, at least look at your posterior in the mirror!

2. First, face the result that you would least like to experience, then return to the present reality. In your mind’s eye, lean into the dreaded result that you fear. Sit with this possibility. See yourself accepting and experiencing the loss, the disappointment, and possible failed results. Practice knowing that whatever happens, your better self can face it with the strength of the universe. Then return to the here and now with the presence of calm in face of uncertainty. 

3. Surrendering control is a daily practice that cultivates acceptance. Letting go is seldom a one-and-done life experience. Surrender requires ongoing conditioning. When the stakes are high, surrender must be a lifestyle. Most people who lose precious relationships and positions must think in terms of days or months or even years to let go of what they cannot control. For addicts, it’s a lifetime practice of letting go of their drug of choice.

4. Letting go requires a disciplined action step without hovering around that which no longer is. A National Geographic nature show presented a mother wolf who died surrounded by it’s pups in the winter. The pups continued to hover around the carcass hoping to get the sustenance of milk from the dead mother. Finally, the pups gave up and left as the moderator declared they will never come back again. The hovering was over. For you to let go, it will require eliminating the aspect of hovering. You will have to act and forge ahead, leaving behind what no longer is real. 

5. Letting go will require a new declaration of reality with accountability. Once you recognize what you cannot control and must let go, you must declare your commitment to surrender to your community of support. You might be wanting to let go of excess weight, a bad habit, old digs, or a difficult relationship, but, it will help you to declare your intentions and practice accountability with others who believe in you and who will not shade your actions but inspire your follow through.

6. “Yesterday ended last night”— This is a healthy mantra to adopt around letting go of what you can’t. Perfection is never part of the plan for surrender. Some days and situations are more difficult to let go than others. There are days that are a battle and you just don’t. But, each morning is a new day with new opportunities to surrender and experience acceptance. Practice living in 24-hour tight compartments. Release, surrender, let go, and experience serenity. Each day of conditioning provides the necessary acceptance that enables you to let go of what you can’t. 

Curse or Blessing: The Transformative Metaphor Every Addict Encounters

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Meaningful insights in recovery addiction often surface in paradoxical metaphors. “To be in control you must let go”; “in order to win you must lose”; “To know God you must be willing to embrace what you don’t know”— are common anomalies that contain significant wisdom and understanding. Sleuthing wisdom from the intensity of addictive craving requires the capacity to sit with addiction and not run from its claws of control. In order to transform addiction into sobriety and serenity, an addict must cultivate the capacity to sit with the struggle. In this manner, he/she can know how to manage the intensity of impulsive desire. It sounds so nonsensical. Many times addiction management suggests that you do the opposite of what seems compelling. Recovery is often counterintuitive.

Addiction recovery can be like bushwhacking when hiking. The term “bushwhacking” is when you go hiking off the trail and make your own way. My son Sam will do this at times. Once, he worked with one of my colleagues and a family in the wilderness. My colleague described that Sam took them on a long hike off the trail. They made their way through briar patches, hiked over boulders, down creek banks, and up over brush piles. It seemed that the entire hike was experienced as one big obstacle. As they made their way, irritation, uncertainty, and growing insecurity began to mount in my colleague and members of the family who followed. However, Sam appeared to meander casually without much consternation as he made his way seemingly aimless through the brush. What seemed acceptable to him was one big obstacle course for those who followed behind! Finally, they reached a place of clearing where there was a break from the brush, even a nice little stream that provided beauty and a breather from the tension of bushwhacking. Family members began to chuckle about the journey and engage in the profound subtle experience of peace in an outdoor space that they would not have known had they not bushwacked with Sam on that day. Suddenly, arriving at a desired destination wasn’t so important anymore. In the moment, the boulders and brush that had been such an obstacle were now experienced as a terrain that set free the pent-up emotions in exasperated relationships and opened each family member’s heart to new experiences of bonding to each other. The obstacles that were challenges on the course of bushwhacking became opportunities for closeness and family connection.

Addiction recovery invites us to reframe our experience with obstacles as something that flows in the universal stream of life. When we see our addiction as only an irritation or obstacle—like a boulder in the way that must be climbed over—we miss the insight and wisdom that the obstacle or addiction would share.

The curse of addiction is an obstacle in life that is designed to be transformed into a blessing. Most addicts are at first dumbfounded by this thought. How can intense addictive craving ever be a blessing? It seems so antithetical. Many curse the addiction and hate themselves for being an addict.

I like to think that addictive craving is the voice of God trying to communicate legitimate needs that must be met in a healthy way. When an addict craves for a drug of choice, it is important to listen to what is going on underneath the addictive urge. In other words, there are legitimate needs and feelings that must be addressed. For these needs to be met, an addict must tune into his/her feelings. Typically an addict will disconnect from unwanted feelings like shame, anger, disappointment, resentment, etc. Most likely an addict would rather numb out with a drug of choice than to sit with the intensity of discomfort of an unwanted feeling. Immediately triggered, an addict will move in the direction of acting out or curse the addiction while asking for help in some way. Either way, the addict will be unfriendly to self and the addiction in particular.

We talk about “the addict” within. Many times I hear guys say how much they hate their addiction but are glad for their recovery friends. They live in an adversarial relationship with their addiction. It makes sense. You want to live free of destructive behavior so why not hate your addiction. My concern is that I don’t see that working toward long-term serenity. Treating your addiction as a curse has proven helpful for short-term sobriety for some. However, it is my experience that addicts rob themselves from long-term serenity by hating themselves for being addicts. It leads to more of a “white-knuckling” mentality.

Buddhists speak of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward oneself. Serenity requires self acceptance of all of yourself, warts and all. Addicts who learn to work with their addiction through deeper acceptance become more aware and acute to listening to their addiction with effective dialogue. Running from addictive urge fuels ignoring needs that must be met in healthy measures. It’s not like saying “I’m fine with my addiction, no big deal” or “I just love being an addict!”. None of us who know addiction would ever sign up for that torment. Yet, working with addictive urge and listening to decode what need is left unmet is critical toward emotionally growing yourself up by using that which would be destructive and transforming it into something constructive. Addiction recovery is another form of growing yourself up to the adult that you are destined to be. Everyone, not just addicts, have the assignment of emotional maturity.

Growing yourself up sounds sophomoric. Befriending addictive urge is not about giving yourself a pass or rationalizing addictive behavior as “OK”. It is about deepening Step 3—“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”. The goal is that through surrender and acceptance, you work to transform addictive response to a healthy self-parenting response. Hating and despising yourself is always counterproductive. Addicts who stay stuck in this mindset agonize over every temptation and destructive behavior and usually don’t change in the long term. They usually settle for painful cyclical lapsing behavior.

Rather than hate yourself for having the urge, practice listening to the craving, accept it, and choose responsible self-care. This involves removing yourself from a high-risk situation and asking your “wise mind” what need must be met in a mature way. Build strength through consulting your outside support for clarity of immediate intervention. Figure out what is going on underneath the addictive urge. Once you identify what you are feeling and what need must be addressed, surround yourself with encouragement to cultivate intimacy rather than isolate through addiction behavior. When you do this effectively you become a mature adult meeting your needs through healthy self-parenting. This strategy is simple but not easy. It takes a lifetime of conditioning and training yourself. You never reach perfection but throughout life, you just get better and better. Essentially, addiction is an intimacy disability. By listening to your addictive urge you become capable of transforming an intimacy disability into intimacy ability when you parent yourself and meet the need with intervention and self-care. It comes back to the reality of a paradoxical metaphor of being able to take what is experienced as a curse and transforming it into a blessing. This is the way of mature recovery.

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.

The Art of Conflict Resolution—Every Addicts Challenge

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Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict -alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” —Dorothy Thompson

Most people try to avoid conflict at all costs. It is a dreaded predicament in human relationships.  Thinking about what you said has kept many people awake at night. Couples whom I work with in therapy play games, lots of different types of games, in order to avoid conflict. It is common for one or both to be passive, passive-avoidant, or passive-aggressive to avoid addressing conflict.  

In every organization, there are unspoken rules that govern the way to deal with conflict.  It is important to know the rules, unspoken and unwritten, within the organization in order to navigate conflict. You will need to know who has the power and what is expected within the organization when there is disagreement. Unspoken assumptions usually result in hurt feelings. People who don’t know the cryptic rules in the game of conflict often find themselves scrambling for a light switch in a dark room, trying to figure out the blueprint for conflict resolution.  It can be frustrating and humiliating. 

Conflict requires direct communication.  Contrary to common consensus, fighting is an important component in the cultivation of healthy connections through communication. The operative understanding is a focus on fair, not unfair, fighting.  Agree on the subject, share concrete observations, thoughts, and interpretations, clarify feelings, emphasize wants, needs, expectations, listen, summarize, and you have a great start toward conflict resolution. The more direct you are the better the possibility of resolution.

Conflict requires rules for fair fighting. You create them with the person you want to communicate.  You can make the rules with one or many, depending on the context. The governing principle is preserving an “I care about you” environment.  If you don’t care about the other person don’t have the conversation. Fight fair rules include avoiding name-calling, voice tones, body language, words that connote condescension, domination, interruption, finishing sentences, grand exits, anger/rage explosions, threat talk, etc. Each entity can determine its own rules to guide the communication about conflict. The idea is simple. Not if, but when a rule is broken, the conversation is stopped until the offending party makes amends for the infraction and then you continue. With highly contested issues, the conversation may go slow. However, it often results in a shortcut, given the prospects of unfair fighting.

Once each party has been heard, mutual understanding is the common result. Then, two parties can brainstorm separately, then together, a collaboration or compromise that resolves the conflict. It is simple, not easy.

Codependency is a common flaw that disrupts the process of conflict resolution.  Essentially, trying to control what other people think or feel usually accelerates the conflict without resolution. Fearing rejection, desperately wanting approval, and trying to avoid facing difficult emotions are often like pouring gasoline on the fires of stress and tension in a relationship conflict.

Here are a few considerations to prepare you to successfully address conflict:

1. Cultivate a proper attitude toward relationship conflict. If your position is to avoid relationship conflict at all costs, you will most likely be plagued with some degree of intimacy disability throughout your life. If you are charismatic, progressive in thought and manner, and articulate with those thoughts but overwhelmingly concerned with what other people think and can’t stand disapproval, please avoid positions of leadership. Positions of influence require that you stand for principle in the presence of disapproval. It requires that you cultivate acceptance that conflict resolution is a significant responsibility at every level of leadership. Conflict resolution requires that you let go of control of others, places, and things. No small task.

2. Surrender willfulness and embrace willingness.  Addicts are not the only people who want what they want when they want it. Willfulness expresses my way or the highway.  Some people use nice agreeable language to hide their willfulness. It just doesn’t solve a conflict.  An attitude of willingness lessens the grip of control and opens one’s heart to understanding and the desire to brainstorm collaboration and possibility.

3. Let go of power over and incorporate power within and power with.  Power-over uses coercion, force, and domination to accomplish its end. It’s like throwing a 5-gallon bucket of dirt on one small weed, thinking that you have solved your weed problem. Sooner or later, not one but many weeds poke their head to the surface of the dirt. Power-over dynamics creates “haves” and “have-nots” and fuels resentment and discord.  Power within involves people having a sense of their own capacity and self-worth.  Power-with is energy when faced with conflict. It is a concept that sustains community and cultivates conflict resolution. It is a shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment, and collaborative decision-making. It helps to resolve conflict and build bridges within families, organizations, and social change movements across differences (e.g., gender, culture, class). It cultivates the concept of power within.

Conflict is a necessary reality in the community of human relationships. Rather than ignore, avoid, or minimize its presence, may we learn to embrace it and direct its energy toward healing connection in relationships in families, organizations, and communities around the world.

Adjustments – The Key to Overcoming A Fixed Mind

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When you combine addiction with age, sometimes you come out with a grumpy old man. At least that is what it seems like for me some days. Addiction can be like working out. It makes you sore. You want what you want when you want it, but in recovery you know it doesn’t work that way. No matter how hard you work Step 3 to let go and let God, some days are just hard, irritating, and exhausting. Makes you want to swear. I know guys in recovery who live in a constant b******g and moaning state. They’re not fun to be around in a 12-step meeting. God only knows what they are like at home. 

I tell people that as a recovering addict, I wake up most mornings with a bad attitude. In recovery, if you don’t manage your spirit and attitude, you will be in for a long day. So I do. I have discovered that I am prone to become rigid with fear and anxiety which leads to shame, judgmentalism, and sour thoughts about the world around me. These fixed thoughts can fossilize in my brain unless I get out of my comfort zone every day to break up my fixed mind and stretch my thoughts. I open my heart to less-than-ideal situations, to people who don’t think like me, and to situations that are irritating.  Opening my heart with acceptance and tolerance helps to foster love toward me and others in the world around me. 

It is helpful to stop and observe those who adjust to whatever circumstance is presented. Outdoor enthusiasts tend to be this way. When camping out and something breaks, is left at home, or they are hit with a deluge of rain, they just adjust and do the next best thing. Some outdoors people are amazing in terms of how they remain calm, make adjustments, and move on as if it is no big deal. My son Sam exemplified this snowmobiling in Idaho. His machine broke down. He replaced a worn belt that had been shredded with a new belt. The new belt promptly shredded, leaving him stranded about 20 miles from somewhere. Then he broke the tool inside the carburetor of the machine and he seemed really screwed. But, he just hitched a ride with his partner, and we went to beautiful hot springs and renewed and refreshed with nary a major complaint. Later, he had to tow his machine behind his partner’s. There were even yet more hassles trying to get the part fixed. Yet, he just kept adjusting and putting the negative in a positive frame of mind. 

How can an addict do the same when faced with obstacles, disappointments, and times that are tough?

1. Take a deep breath and lean into the difficulty. No one signs up for hassles and frustration. Hassles are difficult, but they are not the end of the world. Most of us live to see another day when it seems everything has gone awry. Sitting with your struggles is a way to calm your mind and heart. Take a few minutes and just be still. Allow the anger, disappointment, anxiety, and resentment to build, then at that moment, it will subside. If you express yourself when these powerful feelings are building, you will hurt yourself and others. If you need to take a break, a walk, a drive—anything that will help you de-escalate, do it. Condition yourself to lean into the struggle and accept it for what it is. It is not glamorous but it works.

2. Be grateful at the moment you most want to explode with criticism, cutting remarks, or just give up. Boy, you say, this is easier said than done. It’s true! So, you must work to train yourself to begin gratitude recognition, not because it feels good but because it will help you adjust and shift away from a bad attitude.  Re-condition your mind from negativity to focusing on positive possible outcomes throughout the day. Gratitude fuels enough energy to plant your feet and your heart so that you can be true to your life source.

3. Rely on your affirmations. I am not a positive mental attitude guru, but if you are one who is stuck in a bad attitude, it sure beats the hell out of hanging out in the dregs of negativity. Yet, this doesn’t happen by simple choice. It requires that you stoke your brain with ongoing positive messages about yourself and the world around you.  When you do this with regularity, it breaks up the sludge of negativity and helps to make the necessary adjustments that make recovery worthwhile.

4. Don’t force your will on to the day’s experience. Have a plan and work on your recovery. Be prepared to shift when things don’t work out as planned. Let the fruit of your day come to you. If you work your plan and shift from a fixed mind (inflexibility), watch how meaningfulness surfaces in the midst of your difficulty. You will be able to bring forth your brilliance from an average day of struggle. Rather than force purpose and meaningfulness, let it come to you with acceptance and surrender to what happens around you, to you, and through you in an average moment each day.

Over the 30+ years I have been in recovery, I have observed many 12-step addicts sustain long-term sobriety. I know many who have very little patience, tolerance, or capacity to adjust when things go wrong. I don’t know any who experience daily serenity but who have not deepened their journey with Step 3 and learned to become flexible, letting go and adjusting to life as it is presented each day.  Adjustment is a life skill that keeps your heart open.  It is a cure for an inflexible, rigid, closed heart.


This new post was written by Ken Wells. In Dare to be AverageKen’s new book, you can embrace healing, peace, and self-acceptance through meaningful insights to discover purpose and fulfillment in everyday life. 


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The Addictive Matrix of Entrepreneurship

We live in a culture that encourages having more not less. Inflation alone demands that you earn more tomorrow than you made today, just to keep up with yesterday. Economic homeostasis is an illusion. Entrepreneurship is a concept of becoming free from hand-to-mouth living. It eclipses the mentality of merely being able to bring home the bacon to that of owning the whole store. It transcends owning one store to networking all the stores that exist so you can access every imaginable type of bacon that exists in the world anytime you want.

However, it’s a matrix that has constraints. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is powerful. Beginning with nothing and creating something can become addictive. It is certainly exciting, exhilarating and generates a dopamine rush. Listening to stories of entrepreneurs who have gone from rags to riches and have provided value to so many is inspirational.

Like so many aspects of living, the creative thought of entrepreneurship must be guided and governed. Without boundary, entrepreneurs become addicted to the disease of more. They get caught in the rubric of doing more to keep from being less. Here are a few considerations to help guide and govern your entrepreneurial thoughts and behavior.

1. Ownership is an illusion. Everyone wants to be an owner. The amenities of ownership are many. Ownership is a paradox that creates a challenging hook for both addicts and entrepreneurs. In order to own you must learn the art of surrender. The very thing you grasped and sacrificed for must be let go! This paradox applies to an entrepreneur with respect to achievement and possessions as well as addicts regarding sobriety. When the vice grip of pressure closes in while you stretch and strain to make something new a reality, the last thing you want to do is let go! How crazy is this?

Every day a recovering addict must start all over by surrendering the achievement of yesterday to the possibilities of beginning a new day with all of its opportunities and potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurship is the same. Possessions are an illusion. In truth, no one really owns anything. Each person rents space on this earth and eventually, you must give your space back to the life force in the universe. Your past accomplishments must be surrendered to the present moment. This view is not meant to minimize your accomplishment, it just means you cannot possess yesterday.

There is a parallel matrix that aligns addictive behavior and entrepreneurship. The more success you enjoy at one level the more you want at the next. Your perspective is no different than when you had less. It’s the nature of the disease of more. It creates a hole in your soul and you become like the little boy who can’t get enough sugar. It’s important to remember ownership is an illusion.

2. Practice the secret that more is less and less is more. Let your world come to you. Success and sobriety need not be a Brazil nut that requires a nutcracker to open. There is a phenomena that happens when you push for more and more. You never get enough! You become enslaved by an incessant push for success. Jaded by the disease of more, you never get enough of what you really don’t want.
When you let go of the results you allow success and serenity to come to you. It’s not that the results do not matter. It’s just that you free yourself from the illusion that you control outcomes. You can influence results. You can do all that you know to create a positive effect. Then you let go of the outcome with the unconditional confidence that whatever the result it does not define you and you will manage whatever happens. You get free from the bark of shame that screams that you are not enough! As in the lyrics crooned by Janis Joplin, “Freedom becomes another way to say you got nothing left to lose”. It’s the journey of the common average daily experience that creates fulfillment and happiness. If you do not embrace this understanding, then when you achieve the spectacular it will not be enough or fulfilling. Your corner of freedom is how you choose to think about your accomplishments and acquired possessions. No one can take this away from you. Letting life come to you is a Zen mentality necessary to experiencing value in the ordinary, average spaces of life. This is a key matrix position to addiction recovery and entrepreneurship.

3. Failure is a necessary ingredient in the matrix of recovery from addiction and the entrepreneur profession. If you cannot control the results then at some point you will be disappointed with the results of a given effort. It is as certain as the sun coming up the next day! There are many cliches—“Failure is never final”; “Fail forward” etc. They are all meaningful. For sure, to establish longevity as a recovering addict or inveterate entrepreneur you must manage failure everyday. Wayne Dyer used to say “there is no failure, you just produce results” What you do with the results you produce is what matters. You must be able to make meaningfulness from disappointment and discouraging results. It requires the power of reframing your experience to life. It is not about denying or ignoring shortfalls. It is not about lowering expectations so you can pretend you did not fail. It simply means that you become the person that allows yourself to be a mistake-making person and that you will sort and sift meaningful wisdom from every failed endeavor. In this way, you make every failure a source of wisdom that you build upon each day of your life. You learn to not minimize or rationalize excuses for failures and shortcomings. You simply face the reality of temporary defeats, losses, and failures. You glean understanding and wisdom from every mistake. You become more sage and astute to the experience of life. Addicts, with long-term sobriety, and long-established entrepreneurs live with the unshakable awareness that failure is an essential part in the matrix of long-term fulfillment and ultimate destiny of success.

A Five Tool Relapse Recovery Plan: Tool #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrender’s Sweet Spot: Knowing When to Quit “Rehab is for Quitters”

Recovery is such a paradox—to be in control means to let go; to win you must know how/what to lose; to know God is to humbly embrace what you don’t know; to go deep in wisdom you must dare to embrace the commonplace average. 

I can remember always trying too hard when I was a kid. Shamed by my athletic performance very young, I never thought I could measure up, so I would try harder than everyone else or so I thought. I remember when I was about 14, I worked for one of my older brothers who managed a Shell Oil gas station. He had given me an assignment to create a window display with all the oil cans that were for sale. Then, it was popular to create a kind of pyramid display. Some gas stations made it an artistic arrangement that expanded the entire picture window with a design that went all the way to the ceiling. I was determined that was what I was going to create. I thought about a design that made sense in my head and went to work. I would construct my pyramid almost to the top of the ceiling and then it would collapse—not a row or two but the entire pyramid which frustrated and embarrassed me. That morning I tried seven times—each attempt met with failure. My brother would stick his head in the room to see how I was doing at the most inconspicuous time—when the cans were spread out all over the floor. He kept asking “You ‘bout done ?” Each time he’d ask I’d get pissed and with determination. I’d try it again and then again. Finally, on the seventh failure, I cussed and began to cry. Fearful that I would be seen crying by my brother and called a “big baby” I went to the bathroom to hide. I got myself together went back to the display room picked all the oil cans and put them back in the boxes and quit! Then and a couple of other times prior to getting into recovery were the only times I recall ever quitting in my life. I was surrounded in a culture that taught me well that—whatever you do, don’t quit. The mantra “winners don’t quit” was ear wormed in my conscience and drove me at times into the ground.

The truth is that a champion’s testimony is about knowing when to quit and what to quit. Trying too hard always freezes capabilities and pushes away opportunities to achieve and move forward. The only way to recognize trying too hard is to try too hard and experience its disappointment and failure. Michael Jordan talked about letting go of trying too hard of doing everything for his team and allowing the game to come to him. He emphasized that it was this understanding of his profession that helped him to flourish in becoming the great basketball player he was destined to be. Many of us can relate to some degree about allowing our abilities and talents to develop and flourish professionally by letting go and allowing the work to come to us. So, professionally we soon learn that it is important to know what to quit as well as when to soldier on.

The challenge comes when life asks that we transfer this skill set of knowledge and wisdom into our personal relationships and recovery lives. Doing more and harder what doesn’t work needs to be stopped. Yet, many of us hold on with a death grip trying to control what we cannot control in our relationship lives. You can’t make your partner sober. You can’t make him/her stop ragging and nagging about how you lied, cheated, and broke their heart. You can’t make your son or daughter stop using or be successful. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to control anything or anyone but yourself. All attempts with temporary success are only an illusion that keeps you drunk with efforts to control. Only when you realize and surrender will you quit. That’s why we say “Rehab is for quitters”. 

However, quitting often means to start. It means getting back into your own lane and recognizing your limitations. Surely, it means going deep within your own lane of understanding and mining the depths of family of origin hurt and dysfunction that fuels this compulsive need to control what you cannot. To quit means to embrace the personal fear and face what that might mean drawing upon the strength of a Higher Power and others who have been there. So quitting often means to start as well. 

In recovery, sometimes we think we have to do so much to get it right so that we can escape the throes of addictive acting out. Yet, the truth is that some of you feel this way and you have not acted out—you are living profoundly different than you were when you were active in your addiction. Still, you feel the pressure that you have to do more to keep from being less. This is a sign that you are trying to control what you cannot. So you have to let go of making your partner’s smile of approval your everything and sole marker as to whether you are OK or not. Until you do you will not know the sweet spot of surrender that propels long-term sobriety. Letting go does not mean you are insensitive or boorish toward others, particularly your partner whose heart you have broken with your addictive acting out. It means a clear surrender and recognition that though you have broken trust. You cannot heal the broken heart of your partner and must retreat to gentle validation with healthy boundaries lest you take the bait of trying to control what you cannot. This can become a painful behavioral vortex that leads to overwhelm and relapse. 

Trying to force things to happen is controlling. When you have done your part and then step out of your lane and get into controlling, caretaking, and coercing you have lost your way. Trying to make something happen is a good way to create a block that prevents what you hope from becoming a reality. It’s time to practice quitting again.

Melody Beattie, the author of Codependent No More, says “Do your part in relaxed, peaceful harmony. Then let it go. Just let it go. Force yourself to let it go. If necessary, “Act as if.” Put as much energy into letting go as you have into trying to control. You’ll get much better results. (Language of Letting Go, July 22). Most of us who get stuck in fear and try to cling to control must do deeper work at the point of a family of origin. 

When I was a young boy movies with a Western theme dominated the television screen. I have this image of a stagecoach with a team of horses running out of control across the prairie. There is the stagecoach driver or the “Whip” and then there is this young boy sitting next to him hanging onto the side rail with all his might. At some point, the “whip” hands the reins for the horses to the young boy and says “Kid you’re on your own”. The prairie funnels into a narrow passageway with a 100’ drop-off. We all know that as long as the kid has the reigns that the coach and every animal attached is going to wind up at the bottom of that drop-off. However, the driver, the veteran “whip” firmly takes the reins from the boy and rather than chastise or berate the boy, he draws the boy close to his side as he takes charge. He whispers into the boy’s ear “I’ve been here many times before and I know how to get this team of horses to slow—even to a complete stop—and we will navigate this narrow passageway and all will be fine” and that is exactly what occurs. 

You are the “whip” the stagecoach driver of your life. The only time you get into trouble is when you give the reins to the small child and expect him/her to navigate what only the experienced adult can manage. Truth is, we often hand the reins to the small child within. Yet, when we recognize and take back the reins from the child within, we successfully navigate, knowing when to let go of control, when to quit, and when to steady the course and persevere. Surrendering what you cannot control will require the powerful adult within you to take the reins from the fearful child within.