transformation

Keeping the Flow of Life Force Open and Clear

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Villages in the mountains of South America depend upon the snow melt and the flow of freshwater that comes from headwaters at high altitudes to flow downstream and provide life nourishment and sustenance. Annually, time is set aside for community members to hike up the mountain to clear out clutter, debris, and obstacles that have gathered and clogged the stream during the winter preventing water from flowing downstream. The entire community participates in the project.

Throughout the course of life it is important to clear out the clutter, debris, and obstacles that clog your life force. There are three dynamics that propel us through the stages of life. There is the dynamic of creation. It’s the place where life dreams come from. Many of you have created unbelievable life experiences, achievements, and inspiration. There is the dynamic that sustains. It’s where long term careers are built. It’s the dynamic that solidifies principles to live by. It’s the space that cultivates resilience. Many of you have amazing stories of bouncing back when you were down and out from business, relationship, or health failure. Then there is the part in life that breaks down and dies.

We are asked to build and create, to sustain sacred principles and resilience that bring us back again and again in the presence of defeat and to break down what no longer works, allowing the ineffective to die.

It’s not an easy pattern of living to subscribe to. For example, some of you have created an amazing successful business in which you have become a leader in your industry. You are a founder. In order for your life force to reach the next level of effectiveness, you need to recognize that the people who sacrificed and played a vital role to achieve your level of success is not the same people who can help you reach the next level of effectiveness. The present stalemate in progress tells you this.  You need to bring in new people who have skills and capacities to help you reach that next level. Not only that, what if you the founder, do not have the skills to take your company to the next level that your creativity calls for. Are you willing to step aside and find the right person to lead to the next level? Most are not. See how difficult it is! The next level will require that you rebuild the dynamic that was once successful creating the first level of prosperity. 

The dynamic of sustaining is also difficult to maintain. Most founders lose their “beginners’ mindset”. And why not! People have written magazine articles about your amazing success. You have surrounded yourself with people who tell you how wonderful you are. This environment undermines sustaining a hungry spirit that yields excellence. 

Addicts in recovery face the same pattern toward cultivating a healthy recovery life force. In the beginning they are urged to create a lifestyle that is built around recovery and not the other way around. It worked! In the beginning, addicts make amazing efforts to make sure recovery is prioritized. Yet, sustaining recovery priorities is hard to do. For many, there is the experience of an intense flame that weakens to smoldering embers because it requires determination to sustain program priorities.

M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that life is a metaphor for taking a long journey through the desert. Many stop at the first oasis, set up camp and spend the rest of their lives hovering around the amenities of the oasis. Yet, the life force requires that you pull up stakes and continue the journey all the way through the desert! Addicts must not merely be satisfied with sobriety but dig deeper to find serenity and peace. 

How many addicts do I know who are veterans of 12-step meetings with answers galore for beginning recovering addicts but who never translate the principles of the steps to their relationships at home with a partner and family. Sober for so many years but assholes to live with! They live a different type of Jekyll and Hyde life even in recovery! 

It’s important to take the journey upstream and clear the clutter, debris, and obstacles that have diverted your life force and prevented you from healing beyond your recovery from addiction/entrepreneurial success and to heal all aspects of living.

Here is a list of considerations:

1. Clear the clutter that blocks life force. There is a myriad of possibilities that become clutter. Here are some:

  • Codependency to your partner or others whereby you have lost yourself trying to please or caretake.
  • Resentments that block creativity and life force. You must do the necessary work to clear it out.
  • Procrastination: an unwillingness to embrace step 4 and stalk shame and other painful character defects and abusive experiences that clog the flow of life force.

2. Remove the debris of incongruence and inconsistency. When you don’t clean out the clutter previously mentioned, you will live an incongruent and inconsistent life that will hinder your progress and undermine your goals that lead to sobriety, serenity, and success. Everybody is inconsistent and incongruent in some way. Few people if any follow through with their stated goals all the time even with best intentions. So what is a person to do? Live in consultation with accountability! Not if, but when you are incongruent to your values, be accountable to a group of people who believe in you about your shortcomings. Consult with them about what happened that triggered your downward spiral. Listen and be coachable. Take in the insight others see that you were blind to. Inconsistency can only be addressed by getting back on the horse and progressing one step at a time in a daily fashion. It will be average and unnoticed until the day you achieve your desired goal of serenity or whatever it is you seek to achieve. Manage the debris of incongruence and inconsistency.

3. Tell on yourself about your dishonesty and hypocrisy. Everyone battles hypocrisy, not just people who go to church! In addiction recovery, it is encouraged to establish a detailed behavioral contract called a sobriety contract.

It has four sections:

  • Inner circle behaviors that designate acting out in addiction.
  • Middle circle which identifies the high risk of acting out.
  • Outer circle which promotes positive behaviors to replace the destructive behaviors.
  • A list of people for accountability to report addiction management and any relapse within 24 hours.

Addicts in recovery put dishonesty about their addiction at the top of the inner circle of their sobriety contract. Dishonesty and secrecy are breeding grounds for relapse. It’s true for any goal you have set for yourself. You must tell on yourself when you are hypocritical or dishonest. When you live in consultation in this way you will best position yourself to course correct and bring yourself back to the center of value in the goal you have established as important. The art of telling on yourself is a common point of advice that when you follow through will transform your life and secure your goals with regularity.

Following these principles and guidelines will remove the clutter and debris that block the flow of your life force whether you are seeking recovery from addiction or striving to achieve the next level of success in your entrepreneurial journey. 

The Unencumbered Being

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“So often we make a commitment to change our ways, but stall in the face of old reflexes as new situations arise.” — Mark Nepo

Living in sobriety requires a willingness to make adjustments. We tend to cling to old patterns of living. We are creatures of habit. There is comfort in doing things the same way we have always done them. It’s true for us all. Yet, growth and transition create the need for change. Adaptability is an overlooked quality in recovery. There are common threads that connect all of us in recovery. When we uncover the common threads there is relief and acceptance among those who know addiction. There is safety in routine and predictability that is necessary to create calm from a life of chaos. 

Leaving the addictive life behind demands great courage and humility. For many of us, it took many steps forward and backward before we finally turned the page to a new life totally separate from the old ways of addiction. Most of us recall the loneliness, awkwardness, and struggle experienced during the course of making these changes. It took a great deal of effort to leave old digs, watering holes, and other experiences in addictive behavior. Many of us wrestled with euphoric recall and endured painful user dreams about past moments of addiction. The culture of addiction felt like a warm hug, it was so familiar. 

Reminiscing the first time you ever stepped across the threshold of a 12-step meeting was so scary and unraveling . . .  Who will I see that knows me? What will I have to say? Can’t wait just to get back to the safety of my car after the meeting was over.  It took a long time before a 12-step room became a safe place. Even longer to feel like you belonged.  There were painful disclosures and humble admission of character flaws. Learning to let go was and is a painful struggle. Over time, the 12-step meeting became a refuge, a place to become emotionally naked with people you once dreaded to face. 

In time the recovery culture replaced the neighborhood of addiction. Some old acting-out friends disappeared while other relationships became redefined. Gradually, recovery behavior, relationships, and lifestyle replaced the addictive culture so that today the old life of addiction would be as awkwardly experienced as once was the new life in recovery. Finally, the evolution of recovery had transpired!

Once settled and established, life has a way of underscoring impermanence. Back in the day, Bob Dylan was correct when he wrote and sang “The Times They Are  Changin”.  In community, relationships change. People move or die. Family configurations require adjustment. An environment that was once predictable experiences the threat of change. Uncertainty is part of the flow of life. The passage of life creates the need for adjustment. We have to practice letting go in new ways about relationship dynamics we mistakenly thought were permanent. 

This part of recovery life is difficult. There is resistance to ongoing adjustments and adaptations during life transition. Once you have stretched and strained from the life of an addict and settled in recovery, now considering continual life adjustments can feel overwhelming and too much to ask of yourself.  The late M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled, likened life journey to the metaphor of traveling through the desert. Many come to the first oasis in the desert and settle there, deciding to camp for the rest of life and never completing the journey through the desert. The oasis is comfortable, so why continue? 

Recovery life beckons to press on toward continued growth with its accompanying need for adjustment and willingness to embrace change. The temptation is to hover around old recovery times and digs that can no longer be sustained because of the impermanence of life. Essentially, nothing remains the same. There is a need to change and move forward. However, change generates fear and anxiety. 

Typically, when facing the need for change we want to hold on to what has always been. When there is fear of the unknown, we grip tightly to what we know and have experienced, even if it no longer applies to times we live and might be hurtful. In a parable in the New Testament, Jesus referred to the need for change as being like putting old wine into new wineskins. This metaphor for change emphasizes the idea that the new cloth had not yet shrunk so using a new cloth to patch older clothing would result in a tear as it began to shrink. Similarly, old wineskins had been “stretched to the limit” or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again therefore risked bursting them. There comes a time for change when what used to be true and applicable needs to be adjusted. When we refuse to adjust we become inflexible and more likely to tear or break.  Transitions in life though hard suggest that it is time to move on to new truths, relationships, and understandings about life. Yet we tend to clutch and hold on to what we know when we are fearful ofchanges that usher us into the unknown. 

Growth in recovery requires that you let go of preconceptions and expectations that have accumulated from past relationships and experiences. Recovery is a life of continual recreating yourself in spirit. Some have said that life in recovery is about becoming an unencumbered being. It demands that you release and let die the mentality of the past. Do you know the mentality that you need to let die within you? Is it the drive that you have always lived for? Is it your need to control things, people, possessions, power, position, environments, or money?  Sobriety brings us to spaces in our lives where we need to change our entire way of life. Dropping the way we have done life will mean that you do this one drop at a time. The drastic changes that occur at the inception of recovery underscore the way we are to live our lives moving forward… whether beginner or old-timer.  Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. Living forward and looking backward are both difficult. Understanding can be sleuthed through past reflection but will require rigorous openness and honesty. Fear can be an obstacle to living forward. Letting go of what we know and embracing the unknown is a faith proposition that scares the hell out of most of us. Yet, for those who press forward, what emerges is the peace of becoming an unencumbered being. 

Footprints That Connect Spirituality

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“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The human body is magnificent. The more we learn about the intricacies of our bodies, the more clear it is that there is an amazing life force that creates and connects all of life on this planet and beyond. Some people believe that as phenomenal and amazing as the physical body is most of who we are is spiritual, not physical.

Volumes have been written about the spiritual world but it remains a mystery. Many who decry religion reject the concept altogether.  Those who believe and talk about the intangible nature of spirituality accept that discussion about its properties can be like trying to nail jelly to a tree. 

Religious practice helps many to chart a course toward the meaning of the spirit world. From a macro view of the world, the influence of spirituality is undeniable…

Today, I would like to suggest a less macro and more micro understanding of spirituality in the common experiences of everyday living. 

1. Spirituality is found in the connection of you to the world around you. Addicts live disconnected. They pull the plug on connection to people and the world around them. Their addiction becomes the organizing principle in life. The affair that is created with addictive behavior has been described as a warm blanket more than once. However, spirituality is about the opposite. It is a connection to all facets of living both organic and nonorganic. Meditation is a recovery discipline that connects one to the world around you in the present moment. Being able to connect to the world around you—the birds, trees, plants, animals, rocks and human energy has been described by some recovering addicts as an explosion of meaningfulness where there was once emptiness. I like to think metaphorically that your feelings are the Voice of God.

When listened to, feelings will tell you essential needs that need to be met in a healthy way. The tendency for an addict is to disconnect from feelings of discomfort. Yet, if you sit with uncomfortableness it will tell you what needs to be addressed in your life. You will need to marshal mature actions by utilizing your wise mind to meet those needs in healthy self-fulfilling ways. This requires mentorship and endless practice. It is not magical.  So you might say spirituality is about mature adult living and you don’t have to even use the word spirituality to capture this life experience. For example, you may find yourself angry. Rather than emotionally throw up in someone’s lap or stuff the experience and pretend it doesn’t exist, take time to listen to what anger is trying to say to you. Feelings are experienced in clusters. Withanger it is often tied with fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, or other feelings. If you take time to sift and sort each attached feeling they will clarify what you are experiencing and when connected to your wise mind you can better address your needs. This is why I suggest that your feelings are the voice of God! Listen to them and they will serve you well. This is a spiritual experience.

2. Spirituality is found in the experience of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the process of being exposed to possible harm. It is about embracing the fear of rejection, of being taken advantage of, and of embracing your human limits. It is not taught, it is practiced. If you do not practice it, you will not learn it. It is about becoming emotionally naked to another. It is risking rejection. It engages a willingness to remove yourself from the center of your universe for the purpose of sharing another’s energy and making space for someone else knowing that they may flatly reject your efforts. 

Vulnerability is accepting this possibility and courageously exposing your heart anyway. It doesn’t make sense to always/only be vulnerable. But when it does it is pursued against all odds no matter what the price. It is a shift from intellectual reason and protection to opening your heart and sharing raw feelings that expose hypocrisy, incongruence andfailed behavior in hopes of finding connection and acceptance. This requires courage but when manifested multiplies meaningful life experiences. Vulnerability is spirituality and counterintuitively creates connection.

3. Spirituality is about the experience of uncertainty. No religion can prove that it is the one true way. Outside of religious experience, no philosophy or experience can prove its methodology of living as the one correct approach. There are many opinions and beliefs. Likely, they are all correct in different ways! You will need to sort out what you choose to think and believe. Ignoring this reality is a choice in itself. For sure, spirituality is a belief plunge into uncertainty. None of us like the experience of free falling. When I was young I would take junior high kids to a cliff at a lake in Wyoming to jump in for a swim. The cliffs were between 50 and 60 feet high! It was far enough to consciously experience the free fall. When free falling you experience total helplessness. There is literally nothing you can do to counter gravity but to fall. This is what it is like to plunge into the uncertainty of spiritual belief. It is having the confidence that in free-falling into your belief, your confidence is not that you will control the outcome but that your spiritual belief will bring you back up. This means that with bravery you are willing to live with the uncertainty that surrounds you every day because of your belief in the basic goodness of who you are and/or the power you choose to trust in your daily free fall.

4. Spirituality is about velvet steel. I call my blog Velvet Steel because of my deep conviction of this spiritual principle. Spirituality is about connection which engages the principle of velvet steel. This concept embraces the word “consideration” which can describe a parent who practices when to apply the strict letter of the law to a misbehaving child and when to back off and go easy. There is no formula. It’s all about cultivating sensitivity to the spirit of another. Sometimes you need to be willing to walk to hell and back to stand for conviction and principle and other times not. It’s about being velvet steel. 

In recovery meetings, there is usually at least one person who sees themselves as the hammer—the steel—and gives feedback from that standpoint. It is common for others to consistently be velvet, being easy toward others hoping they too will be easy with them. It is rare that you experience velvet steel blended in feedback. This is because it is difficult. Often it takes a certain degree of steel to be velvet as well as it is important to share a certain amount of steel while being velvet in feedback. That said, spirituality is not all about rules and regs (steel) but it also includes knowing the rules well enough to know how and when to break them (velvet). Velvet steel is a dynamic applied in many different ways and requires integrity and honesty to the practice for it to be a spiritual practice that heals and transforms behavior. Spiritual practice must include a mature application of velvet steel. In truth when applied with sensitivity it reflects an art form. 

There are footprints of spirituality in common everyday places that are mostly overlooked by those who are in a hurry or a frenzy of everyday living. Take time to notice the footprints of spirituality that will help right-size your everyday walk with meaningfulness and connection.

How to Embrace the Change That is Before You

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Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

And you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’

—Bob Dylan

Dylan’s reflection visits every day. Times are changing. Wisps of nostalgia and recollection of times past do not slow the Change Train. I just watched my home team lose in the first round to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Phoenix Suns used to beat up on the Timberwolves year after year. But, no more. I used to be able to run twice a day every day of the week without struggle. But, no more. Father Time has influenced my capacity to bounce back and keep going. I enjoyed close to 30 years working with Psychological Counseling Services in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s been three years since it all ended. The times have changed. 

And so it is for you too! What worked yesterday is not what works today. People say that raising children today is a lot different than 20 years ago. They say that the family unit is more under attack now than before. Perhaps, but it just underscores that times change. The world economy, society, and culture simply keep evolving. Nostalgia is nice but it doesn’t prepare for the present moment.  We learn by reflecting on the past but we bring forth what lessons we have gained and let go of the past. This is what it means to embrace the change that is before you. 

Nothing remains the same.

Here are some considerations regarding managing the change that is before you today:

1. With success or failure, adjust your attitude to be hungry and curious about the change that tomorrow’s challenge will bring. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck likens the journey through life to traveling through the desert. He said many people, desperate to quench their thirst, rejoice and celebrate when arriving at the first oasis in the desert. In fact, they are so happy that they decide to build an encampment and live there for the rest of their lives. He writes most people never adjust their sites to venture through the entire desert. There is nothing immoral or wrong about choosing to become an oasis-dweller. However, the flow of life brings the need for evaluation and change. What worked yesterday is unlikely to be as effective today. Some people say well I have been doing what I do for quite some time, why make significant change now. Recovery success lulls an addict to sleep. It will do the same to you with whatever pursuits are important to you. Yesterday is a word that reflects on the historical past. In order to thrive you must be willing to adjust to tomorrow’s change. I am not suggesting immediate wholesale change but I am suggesting always tweaking the edges and challenging the center toward becoming the best version of who you are. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater but you will need new refreshing bathwater for tomorrow. When you have miserably failed it is not difficult to yearn for something more. When you know much past success, that is when change is difficult to embrace. Evaluate the times around you. It might be business, recovery, or your significant relationship. The passing of time is the shadow of change. If your attitude does not include a desire to embrace new pathways, you will not be hungry or curious to adapt to what is needed in your recovery or your business tomorrow.

2. Come to terms with your limits: I am aware that there is an emphasis on reaching beyond your limits. In many applications to life I agree. Another important consideration is that when you know your limits well you can pivot and focus on doing something very different which you failed at before. Some people think that “no limits” means you just beat your head against the same wall time and again. After you take medication for your headache, consider the term limit as a metaphor. When you know your shortcomings you can access the brilliance that lies deep within you. your limits are only a suggestion to do something different that can be resourced deeper within you. You can go as deep within as you choose. You are less likely to be open to creative change as long as you only focus on the limit that you think you should be able to overcome. Why not work with it and go deep? Active acceptance of what is opens your heart to the creative genius—your brilliance that is limitless within.

3. Lean into the experiences that life brings you to: If you fail in your pursuits and cannot comprehend what the results of your efforts are trying to tell you, don’t be too quick to run to the next application for the possibility of success. Even if you are cornered by great financial pressure to figure out how to get some dough right now,  take time to sit with your failure—all your feelings, your thoughts and process what brought you to this point. Be real! Sift and sort for meaningfulness in the presence of your daily experience (recovery, business, or both). Counterintuitively, leaning into your experience of struggle, emotional pain, loss, and failure will help you move forward. Allowing dust to settle helps to establish a clear pathway. Life’s purpose in time and space is revealed through your willingness to be vulnerable.

4. Trust the process of transformation. If you could just have a blueprint that shows you where you are and reminds you that on the other side of your struggle and trouble, it will all look like this! But, transformation in life does not work this way. You must know that you cannot know what is happening in the moment of your transformation. It doesn’t occur in an instant. Like the rising sun, it happens in its time!  It is impossible to see what is emerging in your life when opportunities, health, and people are taken from your life. It is hard to believe in transformation when the feeling of deprivation is in every corner of your life. Transformation brings you to a place where you cannot go back. You can no more go back and create what you hoped for than you can wear the same pair of blue jeans when you were in junior high! Those experiences have been scoured from your life.

When you do embrace the change that is real in your life, you will be given the invitation and the power to welcome the experience of something new that will transform the limits that you thought were insurmountable in your past endeavors. It is from the place of embracing change that the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau was inspired to write “I have learned this at least by my experience: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours”.

Embrace the change that is before you and experience the transformation that is to be a part of your destiny. 

Black and White choices in the Gray Zone of Recovery Living

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I have practiced recovery from addiction through the 12-steps for 34 years. I have worked through each step 10 different times. I utilize the steps every day of my life. That said, I know that recovery is not uniform. Some people I know who began recovery about the same time I did, no longer struggle with the cravings I do. I have listened to many who have testified about transforming their life in other ways than following the 12-steps. Some who met with me 30 years ago in 12-step groups disappeared and returned to acting out. I have had conversations with others who attended 12-step groups for a while and then stopped. They tell me that they got to a place where they no longer needed the steps to remain sober. They say they have not acted out in years. 

At times I wish that I was one of them. Yet, I am grateful for the serenity I have experienced through the diligent work I have done through the 12-steps. To be sure, recovery is a challenge for all, regardless of the path chosen. It is helpful to recognize that people choose different pathways to experience recovery. 

Through the years of my recovery, I have noticed that there is a certain gray zone about recovery. Every addict does the steps in different ways. Also, there are specific things that I can do and remain sober but you cannot. For example, some alcoholics could never have lunch in a bar without the overwhelming temptation to drink. Others report not experiencing overwhelming temptation while friends drink alcohol in their presence while they sip on a soft drink. Some porn addicts report they can watch a racy sex scene with their partner without acting out sexually while others advise that watching would constitute relapse. There would be no way the scene would be compatible with their sobriety. 

Many alcoholics in recovery remain dependent upon nicotine and smoke like a chimney. Nicotine kills more people in America than alcohol each year. Some sex addicts put the use of pornography in high-risk middle circle behavior, but not designated acting out. Some sex addicts in a committed relationship think of flirting with another person as high risk but not acting out. Sometimes addicts honestly have made these conclusions while at other times addicts are humoring addictive rationale. Often, seasoned therapists and veteran addicts in recovery can detect compromise and flirting with disaster that is presented by another addict. In 12-step meeting rooms there is a saying “If everywhere you go smells like shit, maybe it’s time to check your shoes”. There’s a lot of wisdom in phrases like this to guide addict behavior. 

However, there is also gray zone behavior that addicts must take personal responsibility to sift and sort to determine what makes sense in individual recovery. It’s true one size does not fit all. There is a myriad of questions that addicts must embrace with responsibility. Your answer may not be the same response as someone else. What constitutes acting out must be your own definition, not your sponsor’s, your wife’s, or anyone else. That said, how you define bottom-line behaviors is not the only behavioral list you will need to be accountable to. Your partner will have expectations that you will need to consider in order to preserve integrity in the relationship. The two lists will need to be considered as separate stand-alone lists. 

You will need to determine what you are willing to disclose to your partner and other accountability people about your history of acting out in your addiction. I am an advocate for full disclosure to partners. That said, where the rubber meets the road, it is seldom that a complete exhaustive disclosure is ever given. This sounds contradictory. Yet, many addicts don’t remember the thousands of behaviors they have committed, even though each is egregious and heartbreaking. 

How much you share or what your partner wants to hear lies in a gray zone. This means that disclosure is a dynamic and not a static share. Details that are important in disclosure for one partner may vary from what is important to be shared to another. Some addicts are incapable of telling the whole complete truth because they have damaged their brains with chemical abuse or other hurtful behavior. Sometimes addicts don’t share the whole truth because they are not ready to take recovery seriously. The same can be true for a partner. However, what must be considered in partner assessment is the overwhelming trauma triggered by addict behavior. Partner behavior is often a reaction to the trauma inflicted by addict behavior. These concerns lie in a gray zone and must be individually evaluated before making assumptions about what must be done for healing.

Here are a few considerations that can be helpful in determining your black-and-white response to gray zone recovery living.

1. When you are early in recovery, decide to do whatever your sponsor suggests. Your best thinking got you stuck where you are at in addiction. It’s time to practice humility and surrender your ego to recovery. In time, all of your decision-making will be handed back to you. But first, practice listening and doing what your sponsor and others who have more sobriety that you suggest.

2. Live in consultation. Addicts are self-absorbed and take up too much space. A first step toward long-term recovery is humbly admitting that you need help in all aspects of living. Develop the habit of consulting with other addicts in recovery. There is a saying in 12-step work that “If 8 people tell you that you have a tail, the least check your ass in the mirror!” The emphasis is don’t make important recovery or life decisions on your own without checking in with those who have been through what you are experiencing. The interchange will help you make black-and-white choices and establish your own limits in recovery.

3. Be accountable. People struggle with accountability. It’s one thing to ask for help and quite another to be accountable for the decision you made about the consult you sought. Manage uncertain gray zone recovery experience with accountability for your behavior. Your decision about recovery may be different than what I would do, but accountability brings black and whiteness to what you say is an important value to you. 

    People have black-and-white convictions about diet, exercise, and many other aspects of living. Life is complicated and the pathways to recovery are many. The gray zones in recovery require personalized black-and-white decisions. To live an empowered life in recovery you will need to make black and white decisions that express your values and remain true to your heart in the presence of gray zone experiences. This journey always depends upon consultation from others and accountability for the behaviors that you commit to in your heart.

    Feeling Like a Fraud — No One Wants to be an Imposter 

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    “All my friends thought I was a very happy human being. Because that’s how I acted- like a really happy human being. But all that pretending made me tired. If I acted the way I felt, then I doubt my friends would have really hung out with me. So the pretending wasn’t all bad. The pretending made me less lonely. But in another way, it made me more lonely because I felt like a fraud. I’ve always felt like a fake human being.” ― Benjamin Alire Saenz, Last Night I Sang to the Monster

    One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. Living a fraudulent life is exhausting. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside, feeling like an imposter. Of course, this would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As Richard Rohr puts it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self.” Being who you are is healing and creates a sense of calm and empowerment within.

    There is always a struggle to separate your True Self from your False Self. The True Self is who you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of the universe. It is the divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny. Whereas, the False Self is the image we put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and/or how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you. Yet, once you are connected with who you are on the inside, how you express yourself on the outside begins to reflect your True Self. It is in our False Self that we identify with the imposters of the world because when we are not our True Self, inside we feel fake. 

    It has been my experience that when you are genuine, you feel and even fit better in your skin. Like the velveteen rabbit—the “real” never rubs off. A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person hyper-vigilant from a fear of not measuring up. It triggers the practice of impression management. When you ground yourself in your authentic True Self, you find your true identity.

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

    To accomplish this mindset, you will need to manage paradox. While congruent living is the goal, the reality is that everyone is inconsistent, incongruent, and hypocritical in some ways. I have not known an addict in recovery who has always been consistent with every recovery task. The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition.

    Coming to terms with our limits, embracing brokenness, and shortcomings is the recipe for cultivating humility. Without humility, it is impossible to go deep into personal brilliance. People can find personal brilliance in the presence of arrogance, but they won’t go deep enough. Embracing the human condition with humility is the key to going deep so you’ll want to enlist some help.

    Managing incongruence, inconsistency and hypocritical behavior requires accountability. The strength of accountability keeps human weakness in check and cultivates humility. So, rather than impersonate sobriety or serenity, addicts are encouraged to humbly confess their shortcomings knowing that the power of accountability will call them back to a centered, congruent life. To preserve your True Self, it is necessary to practice telling on yourself.

    At a 12-Step meeting, once you tell everyone your deepest dark shameful secret which is received with support and acceptance from those attending. It is difficult to return and tell the same people that the behavior you committed to not doing— you did again. There is a fear of rejection and embarrassment even though you are in a room full of addicts. Then, if you have had weeks or years of sobriety, become a sponsor or a trusted servant in the meetings— there is even greater fear of rejection if you need to honestly disclose that you have been acting out against your values. It is difficult to tell on yourself. Yet, it is necessary to establish congruency. Not just the confession, but what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to get re-centered and live a sober life. This must be done to find your true authentic self. 

    Although being your True Self takes hard work, it is the only way to establish confidence toward building an authentic foundation for long-term recovery. When you are trying to be centered and sober, many distractions pull you away from focused living and back to your addiction.

    Here are a few suggestions to help address becoming stuck in your false self and how to anchor yourself in your authentic true self.

    1. Commit to loving yourself without the conditions of having to measure up to someone else’s standard. This is difficult for an addict who grew up in a family system that emphasized conditional love. Having to meet the standards of someone else will keep you stuck in your false self. You won’t know how to love and accept who you are while addressing hurtful, destructive behaviors. You will feel pressure to fake it in the presence of others who you surmise have learned to make it. Maya Angelou once said “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Practice cocooning yourself with acceptance and love even when you feel valueless. It is especially important to treat yourself as valuable and to do the next right thing even when you do not meet the standard. It is not about making it ok to act out or to fail a desired standard, rather it is about finding your significance other than from performance. It is about embracing your sense of being and truly loving that. This will bring you back to your true authentic self.

    2. When you think of yourself on the outside of the bubble looking in you will need to blow a new bubble and put yourself in it – You will not be able to transform yourself from your false self to your true self without reframing your life experience regarding meeting other’s expectations. The power of reframing will help you to accept the reality of disappointing behavior while anchoring your reality to your true authentic self. There is no fraud in separating results, success, or failure from your true self. 

    3. Allow yourself to grieve disappointing behavior and failed results. Circularity is a part of the grieving process—languishing/lingering/going back to the dead carcass of what used to be—is all a part of grieving. There is a time to walk away and never turn back. Yet, many entertain an approach of out of sight out of mind and fail to embrace effective grieving. It is important to grieve the loss of your false self (your addictive behavior) to move forward in the development of your true authentic self.

    4. Remember the oyster: Value can be reclaimed from disappointment and irritating, devastating experiences. When a grain of sand penetrates an oyster’s shell, it irritates the oyster, making it distressed and annoyed. The oyster relieves the discomfort by coating the sand with a moist fluid. When the fluid hardens, a pearl is formed. The very process that healed the oyster creates a precious jewel of great value. Your frustration and failed experience do not need to end by remaining stuck in your false self. You can transform your false self into the pearl of being genuinely who you are by practicing telling on yourself and anchoring yourself to your authentic true self. This is the crucible experience which creates gold from failed attempts.

    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 Secret Life of Long-Term Sobriety, Part 1

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    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. 

    Where Do I Go When Life Sucks with No More Options?

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    Life sucks! Every addict I have ever met can remember a time that this statement was true. It’s a time when you were backed into a corner, didn’t have a pot to piss in, all the credits in your wallet had been used and you were faced with yet another “Come Home to Jesus” board meeting with yourself and hurting loved ones. For many of us, there wasn’t just one but many flashpoint experiences triggered by addictive behavior.

    When will I ever be done! Declarations made to end the destructive behavior now have a hollow ring. The only words that echo in your inner emptiness is “Life Sucks” and no one argues with you. You look into the eyes of your loved ones and you know they want to but just can no longer believe your words. You have betrayed and lied to them too many times. 

    Hitting bottom is a lonely experience that is more defined by the intensity of emotional pain you sit with in the scenario you face than it is by the accumulation of things you have lost in your life. People who hit bottom don’t necessarily make positive change. Many just get in line for one more roller coaster ride. 

    So where do you go when you dig yourself into a hole and life sucks? Mother Teresa once spoke “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Sometimes all the places you might turn are no longer available.

    Sally had every reason to isolate and avoid community when she first came to see me in my office. Emotionally, she was fragmented. She suffered horrendous physical, ritual, and sexual abuse from her parents who were involved in a cult. Her parents solicited her to other members of the family and cult. She experienced everything that would make a family unsafe. She fled from this frightful gruesome family to a life on the streets. 

    While learning plenty of street savvy, she also learned to stuff her sorrows and the sadism she’d experienced throughout her childhood with a cocktail of addictions. When she initially sought professional counsel, she experienced more abuse and betrayal from those who were supposed to be healing and safe. She learned to deaden herself to the world at large and to disconnect from community. Eventually, she decided to attend a highly regarded intensive outpatient program, which involves sixty-five hours of therapy in eight days. 

    When she began her plunge experience, there was no trust, only desperation. However, as the days unfolded, her barriers began to come down. Maybe it was the intensity of one session after another, daily, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and continuing until 8:30 p.m. It could have been the many different approaches that her relentless counselors used. Whatever it was, she reached a watershed point where she made a decision to open her heart to the possibility of healing. As she progressed throughout the week, she made the decision that this would be her last attempt to find hope. She decided that she would do whatever it took to get healthy. 

    As she became committed to healing herself, she committed to integrating her fragmented inner self. She embraced the emotional pain that dominated her life, rather than medicate it with addiction. She resolved to attend 12-Step meetings to address her compulsive behaviors. Though dominated with fear and full of anxiety, slowly she shifted and allowed her 12-Step community to become a touchstone and signpost for reality in her recovery. Sharing her brokenness in community provided relational safety for Sally when there was no place else to go.  

    When there is relational safety in community, anything and everything can be explored and sifted and sorted through. Pain becomes the fellowship’s touchstone and signpost indicating imbalance in life. Community provides a sound studio to listen to pain’s message. Common shared brokenness is its draw, not common likeness or interest. Becoming emotionally naked by sharing our deepest feelings and secrets is expected. It’s a space where we can fit and be accepted as we are. It is a sanctuary in which to learn how we can wear our own skin well. It’s a space to accept our own acceptance while staring at imperfection. It is a place to grow ourselves into adult maturity and discover inner brilliance. 

    You won’t heal in isolation. Don’t make the mistake of going it alone. Create a safe cocoon of community to expose ugly intent, immature response, and emotional adolescence. Providing a container to express overwhelming sadness (usually via anger) with total acceptance is usually transformative and life changing. It requires the courageous choice to be real and vulnerable. Within the context of groups, I have experienced men sharing their deepest pain with blood curdling cries of remorse, loss, and loneliness. Group therapy that becomes community is based on the mutuality of common shared brokenness. When people compete and compare themselves to others who have shared, the mutuality evaporates and group effectiveness no longer exists.

    The famous testimony from Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson—who was describing the night he paced back and forth in a lobby of a hotel in Akron, Ohio, craving for a drink—emphasized the power of mutuality. He said the impulse to drink was pushed out of his mind with the idea that “No, I don’t need a drink—I need another alcoholic.” This thought soon led him to connecting with Dr. Bob Smith, another alcoholic. Wilson later stated, “I knew I needed this alcoholic as much as he needed me.” This need for mutuality comes from common shared flaws and weakness. It creates a powerful oneness. This power is nurtured in a group through community spirit. 

    In community, there is shared vision, shared goals, and shared hope. There is healing power when a member courageously shares a truth he/she has not told to another living soul and then, in exchange, receives total love and acceptance from the group. There is healing when a member chooses to live in accountability and consultation with other group members. There is empowerment in a group when a group member, speaking from experience, confronts another member who is struggling to face the truth about his/her behavior. This makes the group powerful like no other. 

    So, when you look in the mirror and it tells you life sucks, there is a place you can go when it seems like there is no other. Transform your life by going to a meeting. You will be grateful you did.