Category Archives: Meditations Remixed

Why being “normal” is a ticket to depression, disease, and addiction

Every day I am becoming more aware that our cultural environment is damaging to our well-being. “Going with the flow” — being “normal” — in our world today will take us to a place where we are physically unhealthy, massively stressed-out, spiritually cynical and disengaged, depressed, and addicted to something or other.

I was reminded of this when I came across an editorial in The Guardian (a UK Newspaper). Author George Monbiot takes a look at what’s happening in our world, and points to the system itself — our way of living — as the heart of the problem:

“What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world…

“There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.”

This social isolation is built into the systems we’ve created. So many things in our society emphasize competition, rather than collaboration and community:

“The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

“Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.”

We’ve heard this before: life in western society today is stressful and competitive. The word that keeps coming up, as a summary of the source of so much of what ails us, is isolation. Continue reading

Being a real man in recovery

how-to-be-a-manIt’s hard to be a healthy man in our culture today. What does it mean to be a “real man?” Or even to be a “good man?” There are the biological realities of being male … the unique brain structure and physiology (eg. the testosterone coursing through our veins). There are also the sociological realities of being male … the constructs and ideals about what a “real man” should be like.

In the process of recovering form any addiction — and especially sexual addiction — coming to terms with the needs of our soul is essential. And this means coming to understand and work with our emotional hurts and needs.

There’s a saying in AA: “You can take the alcohol out of the alcoholic, but you’re still left with the ‘ic.'” In other words, if you take the addictive substance or behavior away from someone without doing the work of deep change, you’re still going to have problems … (the “ick”). And getting at these deeper issues forces us to wade through emotions and experiences that might not seem “manly.”

But we’ve got to do this work. If manliness means being disconnected from our inner life, forget about manliness. That’s a recipe for disaster! The devotional book “Touchstones” has this say about “manliness” and recovery.

It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more “manhood” to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.
–Alex Karras

In our culture, being a man often means being tough and not showing feelings. We realize in this life of recovery that those are silly and immature myths, even though we see them repeatedly on TV, on billboards, and in newspapers.

When we are told these things repeatedly, it makes an impact on us. So we need to hear from each other that this is not the way we wish to live. We don’t admire these attitudes, and we don’t believe the stories. Truly courageous men know themselves. They have been around enough to have depth to their souls, to let themselves love, and to feel the pain of life.

Today, I am grateful to know and share my feelings and to have genuine relationships with those I love.

Recovery skill: being comfortable in your own skin

11Cool_calm_and_collectedIn order to build an ongoing recovery, we need to establish and maintain emotional and spiritual well-being. If we are constantly experiencing life as a roller coaster, overwhelmed by the stresses and frustrations, we’re going to relapse. It’s as simple as that.

So the task of recovery is really three-fold. The first two are the ones that get the most attention, but the third is essential for the long haul:

  1. Do whatever you can to establish your sobriety. Stop using, so you can think and feel clearly, and work on what is driving the behavior.
  2. Do what you can to minimize the damage of your addiction, including coming to terms with the wreckage in relationships, vocation, and possibly physical health. For many people who’ve had a “bottoming out” crash, this is a huge task … for some fortunate few, there isn’t a lot of damage to undo in their external life, only internal.
  3. Do the work of increasing your resilience, finding healthy ways of coping with stress and nurturing yourself, and establishing a spiritual life that is honest and really works for you (ie. establishing emotional and spiritual well-being).

Unless we can start building a life for ourselves that works, a life that’s not dominated by constant stress, depression, and sense of deprivation, our resolve to live “clean and sober” won’t be enough to resist the pull of our old behavior. This is why we always say, “will power is not enough.” We need the steps, we need the group, we need inner healing … and we also need create a new life for ourselves that is full and rich enough that we don’t need to use in order to “manage” or be happy.

One of the facets of this is the capacity to be comfortable in our own skin. That is, to be comfortable with who we are; not filled with shame and self-loathing, and not desperately needing other people’s admiration or approval. Other people experience this as us having a sense of calm self-confidence, a self-assurance that is different — and much more attractive — than the narcissistic braggadocio that is sometimes mistaken for self-confidence.

The excerpt below come from the daily meditation book “The Promise of a New Day,” by Karen Casey and Martha Vanceburg. It talks about how we deal with other people, and it paints a picture of what life can be like in recovery, as we grow in our capacity to be comfortable in our own skin:

Equality is a state of mind. When we value our own self-worth, we are comfortable with the achievements and the well-being of our friends and associates. The symptoms of a punctured ego occur when we criticize others and make demands we don’t want to fulfill ourselves.

Most of us experience wavering self-confidence on occasion. It may haunt us when a big task faces us. Or it may visit us when we least expect it. It’s a facet of the human condition to sometimes lack self-assurance. At times we need to remember that life is purposeful, and the events involving us are by design.

Almost daily we’ll face situations we fear are more than we can handle, and we’ll hope to pass the task off to another. It’s well for us to remember that we’re never given a task for which we’re not prepared. Nor should we pass on to others those activities we need to experience personally if our growth is to be complete.

I must do my own growing today. If I ask others to do what I should do, I’ll not fulfill my part of life’s bargain.

Grief: The Missing Emotion

mourningPeople often turn to addiction as a means of coping with trauma and stresses in early life. This is true of all addictions, but it’s especially true of sex. People turn to addictive substances or behaviors when the trauma and stress of their lives are overwhelming. This often happens for kids when they don’t learn appropriate coping and self-care from their parents and other family members.

One essential practice we need, in order to deal with suffering, is to grieve. We tend to think of grieving as something we do in response to death, and don’t think of it in association with other struggles and losses in life. But grieving is necessary for dealing with any and all losses … and suffering almost always carries some aspect of loss. Many men I work with have to go through a time of grieving a variety of losses they experienced growing up: nurture they needed but didn’t get, broken promises, the loss of safety and security because of verbal and physical abuse, the loss of innocence because of sexual abuse, and the loss of friends and loved ones because of divorce, relocations, and death.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Addictive behaviors and substances are a way for us to deal with suffering and loss without having to mourn. Continue reading

Do this and your relationships will work 10 times better

Relating without manipulating

All of us want better relationships. For many of us, addiction has created walls of distrust and isolation. Many of us struggle with codependence, which creates stress, confusion, and resentment in our relationships.

Addiction isolates, and community (friendship, love, intimacy) heals us. But we have to learn how to relate in healthy ways, so that we can build friendship, love, and intimacy. Our addiction and codependent relationships are evidence of the fact that this doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to learn.

If we can learn this one thing, it will make our relationships work 10 times better: relate honestly, no manipulation. When we are manipulative with others, we create distrust and resentment. If we are skilled manipulators, we can be so subtle that it’s hard for people to tell that we’re being manipulative. But that doesn’t matter: if we are subtly manipulative, it just means that people will be subtly resistant, and over time we’ll notice them pulling away from us. They may not even be able to articulate why they are pulling away … they just don’t like being around us.

How do we manipulate? Besides manipulation through outright lying, here are some key strategies of manipulation. Be honest with yourself – do you do any of these?

  1. Being passive-aggressive is a means of punishing people when they displease us without acknowledging that (a) we are displeased, or (b) that we are punishing them. It is a way of relating that does not admit our displeasure with someone, and therefore creates confusion and consternation in the people around us. They know they’ve done something that bothers us, but are not sure what.
  2. Unspoken guidance is another way we try to manipulate other peoples’ behavior. In this case, we are trying to get them to do more of the things we like. To accomplish this, we do things that seem kind and sweet, but aren’t done out of the goodness of our heart. We are doing the things we do as a way of getting others to respond to us in a certain way.
  3. Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win back our approval. Note that we aren’t telling them that we’re displeased, or why … we are expecting them to intuit this, and then go out of their way to be nice or apologetic to us.
  4. Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose. We want them to feel something towards us, or do something for us … so we offer insincere praise.
  5. Withholding deserved praise is another manipulation strategy. It is a means of putting others down without overtly saying anything unkind. We seek to “bring others down” by refusing to encourage or affirm something that legitimately deserves to be affirmed or encouraged. Usually we do this because of jealousy or resentment.

Manipulative behavior is almost always selfish behavior. It is usually a false means of trying to get our own way. It is an immature and unhealthy way of dealing with people and situations — and it often backfires because people sense the manipulation and resent it.

Never forget this: We don’t have the right or the responsibility to control or regulate other people. If we want to influence another’s actions, our best approach is simply to state our own desires/needs with sincerity and honesty. Others must be free to act, free to choose, and free to make their own decisions without manipulative interference on our part.

The best way to avoid being manipulative is to do two things:

(1) Do whatever we need to stay in touch with our own emotions and needs. We can’t deal with our emotions and needs if we don’t understand what they are.

(2) Find ways of honestly expressing those emotions and needs. There will be times when emotional triggers highjack us, or busy schedules overwhelm and cause us to shut down. When that happens, we will need to step back, quiet ourselves, and possibly meditate or journal to get back in touch with our souls.

This might sound like a lot of work, and it is at first. But it does get easier over time, and the rewards are tremendous. The rewards are serenity, intimacy, and recovery.

* This is a remix of a meditation by Mel B, published in “Walk in Dry Places” by Hazelden Publishing. I took some of Mel’s ideas and mixed them with my own, rewording, adding things, and taking other things out. My sense is that what separates written “remixing” like I’m doing here and plagiarism is that I’m acknowledging my debt to the source.

What do you think? Do you find other ways people are manipulative in relationships? Do you think this impacts recovery?

Overcoming Codependence: Relating without manipulating

Without understanding our motives, we can easily lapse into behavior aimed at manipulating others. We can do this by passive-aggressively punishing them, or doing things that seem kind and sweet as a way of getting them to respond to us in a certain way.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win our approval.
  • Flattery is a false expression of Continue reading

What does it mean to forgive?

The purpose of forgiving is to release our own minds from the pain of held resentment. We do not forgive others because that’s what nice people do. We forgive because it sets our minds free for other things – like living happily in the present.

This is not to say that in forgiving we do not acknowledge a painful relationship or past abuse. Forgiving is not suppressing our emotions or denying unpleasant realities. We have a right and a responsibility to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. Further, forgiving doesn’t mean being close to someone we need to keep our distance from or trying to return to the past to rework it.

Forgiving simply means that we are willing to live our lives from today forward without unwittingly recreating and replaying old scrips that we hold in our unconscious. We forgive ourselves and others with deliberate understanding. It means letting go of our attempts to hurt the person who hurt us. It is our quickest road to freedom.

(Remixed from “Forgiving and Moving On,” by Tian Dayton)

Releasing stored anger as part of recovery

To live in recovery, we must be willing to take responsibility for the anger that we carry within us. We are not bad people because we feel angry. No one wants to think of themselves as an angry person, and we are no exception. But when we refuse to acknowledge the anger and resentment that we have stored within us, two things happen:

(1) we turn our back on ourselves and refuse to accept a very important part of ourselves
(2) we ask the people close to us to hold our feelings for us, to be the containers of our unconscious, or the feelings inside of ourselves that we do not wish to see.

Because we deny our anger to ourselves does not mean that it goes away. We must be willing to consider that there might be something more to it, that we may be carrying feelings of anger that we need to accept.

Dealing with the anger inside us does not mean we need to act on it, and do or say things that might hurt others. Owning it and working through it could be accomplished by taking a walk, or meditating, or journaling, to sort out what we’re feeling and why. It may also be helpful to talk through our feelings with a safe and trusted friend or counselor, rather than rushing to confront the person we’re angry at.

Are we willing to own our anger?

(This is a meditation remix … adapted from Tian Dayton’s wonderful book “Forgiving and Moving On“)