Category Archives: Spirituality

10 Things You Must Give Up to Move Forward in Recovery

movingforward

Here are 10 things you must give up if you’re going to progress in recovery:

 

#1 Letting the opinions of others control your life

It’s not what others think, it’s what you think about yourself that counts. You have to do exactly what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else. Everybody has opinions, and many people are not shy about sharing them! But that’s all they are: opinions. These other people don’t know you and your life the way you do, and they have their own blind spots, issues, and dysfunctions. Not only that, but they have their own agendas in sharing their opinions with you, which might not match yours.

#2 The shame of past failures

Your past does not equal your future. All that matters is what you do right now. What’s done is done. You can be forgiven, and make amends if you need to (and if it is safe to do so). But too often, people simply stay stuck in guilt and shame without doing anything about it. It’s time to forgive yourself, let go of shame, and move on.

#3 Being indecisive about what you want

You will never leave where you are until you decide where you would rather be. Make a decision now to figure out what you want, and then pursue it passionately. If you are getting stuck because your dream seems too big and unrealistic, take it back a step or two and think about an intermediate goal or desire. Most people get in indecision, because they focus on things they want to do or have. If that’s happening to you, focus instead on the kind of person you want to be, and move in that direction.

#4 Procrastinating on the goals that matter to you

There are two options in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or to accept the responsibility for changing them. Recovery means taking responsibility not simply for your sobriety, but for your life. When we don’t engage with life (which is what procrastination ultimately involves) we drift and put our recovery at risk. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. If you are procrastinating, chances are you are thinking too far ahead or are dealing with perfectionism. Just take things one step at a time.

Continue reading 10 Things You Must Give Up to Move Forward in Recovery

What addiction and recovery taught me about “believing in God”

beleiveThe Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines belief as: “A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” The experience of addiction messes this up for Christians, whether they want to admit it or not. They say that they “trust God” to help them be happy in life, and to help them overcome their addiction … but somehow this “faith” doesn’t seem to be working. Why not?

My experience of addiction and recovery has forced me to admit that professing to believe something doesn’t mean I really believe it. It has forced me to be attentive to situations where what I observe and experience in “real life” don’t fit with the set of beliefs I espouse.

Coming to believe is a process

In 12 Step language, recovery is a process where people “come to believe” in a Higher Power who can help them overcome their addiction. It’s not assumed that anybody is doing this when they start. It’s a process … and it takes time. And for people who come into this process with a set of beliefs about a “Higher Power” already established, the scary reality is that part of their problem is likely that some of those “beliefs” are inaccurate and destructive.

Religious people hate hearing this. They want to think that their spiritual life is all fine, just the way it is. Continue reading What addiction and recovery taught me about “believing in God”

Why are so many people having such a hard time growing up?

Forever-youngAddiction often rears its head among young people who are struggling to make the transition to adulthood. Because many young people have trauma and deep wounds in their lives – and often get little help learning how to deal with those challenges – they are prime candidates for the siren song of addiction. They turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or other behaviors, instead of doing the hard work of dealing with their issues, and taking up the challenge of new life responsibilities.

In other words, they turn to addiction instead of growing up. But the reverse also happens … the struggle with addiction delays the natural process of growing up. It’s a feedback loop.

Many good writers have tackled the confusion that exists today about what it means to be a man … how a boy becomes a man. Part of the problem relates to the breakdown of families … and the loss of good role models for many young men. Part of the problem also relates to the breakdown of community … it’s not just fathers that young men need to relate to and learn from, but also other significant men. (I suspect it’s not much easier for girls trying to learn what it means to be a woman.)

Steven Foster and Meredith Little — who have led wilderness retreats for many years for teens and adults – write in their book “Vision Quest” about this struggle, and they point to another culprit: lack of meaningful rites of passage. It’s a powerful paragraph, with an indictment against our society for how many people go through life and never really grow up, and never really fully live. Listen to what they have to say:

How many Americans, regardless of age, are caught in an adolescent holding pattern, waiting for the time when they will magically become adult? In the meantime, they will dream the infantile American dream of wealth and power, addict themselves to alcohol and (legal and illegal) drugs, become enamored of the glittering surface of the material world, fall into puppy love and get married, readily dream the clever dreams manufactured for them by media and politicians, fight their own kind with rockets, lasers, and nuclear bombs, worship celluloid and stereophonic personalities, become obsessed with sex, wallow in the depths of narcissistic depression, persist in self-destructive excess, dislike having to be responsible for personal actions, fantasize as a way of facing tomorrow’s verities, try to stay forever young, ignore the eventuality of their own death, put off cleaning up their messy room in the house of the Earth, and restlessly cruise the neighborhoods of the world looking for action. These signs of cultural crisis, and many more, point to the inability of the culture itself to provide meaningful rites of passage by which Americans can initiate themselves into expanded stages of growth.

So what do you think? Do you agree?

 

What you can learn about recovery from Diana Nyad

DianaNyadOver the weekend, when you and I were eating hamburgers from the grill and watching TV, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage. What makes this even more impressive is that she is 64 years old, and this was her fifth try (her first attempt was in 1978). She swam 110 miles in 53 hours, through the Florida Straits, notorious for its strong currents, sharks and swarms of stinging jellyfish. Amazing!

You can read the NY Times article about her trip here. Also, I’ve included a video at the end of this article of her super-inspiring TED talk — from a few years ago (after an unsuccessful attempt … and prior to another unsuccessful attempt) — that talks about her motivation, and some of the personal struggles that such an undertaking involves.

When she completed her swim on Monday, here’s what she said:

“I have three messages…

One is we should never, ever give up.

Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams.

Three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

Never Give Up

Each of these three lessons is worth reflecting on, but I’d like to emphasize the first, especially as it relates to recovery. Never, ever give up. Anything worth doing is hard. Anything worth doing will take more time, effort, and money than you expect. Anything worth doing will likely involve setbacks and times of discouragement.

This is especially true in the process of recovery. Continue reading What you can learn about recovery from Diana Nyad

Here’s Some Help with Step 11

12-StepsI was teaching at The Bridge Recovery Community last night about Step 11 in the 12 Steps. In my prep for this talk, I came across some great information from the Hazelden website. I referenced some of this information in my talk, and people asked about it, so I thought I’d include the information here. Enjoy!

Step Eleven: Cultivating conscious contact with a Higher Power

In 1938, an alcoholic stockbroker named Bill W. wrote a prospectus for the One
Hundred Men Corporation. The name of this entity referred to the number of people who had gained sobriety through an obscure new program of recovery from alcoholism. Bill planned to make this program the subject of a book, but first he needed money to finance its publication. For this purpose he was soliciting investors.

The program that Bill championed was based on 12 suggested steps. It was also unabashedly spiritual. In fact, the One Hundred Men prospectus noted that the spiritual aspect of the program had to be so simple and so practical that one alcoholic could easily explain it to another. Bill’s yet-to-be-written book would show how.

Today there are over 25 million copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) in print. And Bill managed to distill the essence of spiritual practice into the 32 words of Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Continue reading Here’s Some Help with Step 11

What lab experiments can tell us about the cause and cure for addiction

Most people are familiar with the drug experiments that use rats to demonstrate how addictive certain drugs are. Rats are hooked up to monitors and given the opportunity to choose regular water or water laced with drugs. In the experiments, rats choose the drugs, and this is used to show how addictive drugs are. In fact, some rats will kill themselves because they take drugs instead of eating or drinking.

Bruce Alexander is an addiction researcher from Canada who took these tests further. In what has become known as the “Rat Park” experiment, he and other researchers showed that the environment rats are in while they’re being tested completely changes rats’ propensity to use drugs.

The Skinner Box

Rat in a Skinner Box

Alexander noted that rats like to run around, play with other rats, hide under shelters, and make baby rats. But in the drug research at that time, none of this was possible. Rats were isolated in hellish contraptions known as “Skinner Boxes” (individual cages that allow researchers to hook up sensors to the rat’s body, thus reducing the rat’s ability to move around).

The Rat Park research was based on this question: “What if all the traditional drug/rat experiments show is that when rats are isolated, and live in horrible environments, they will tend to use drugs?” In other words: what would happen if you put rats in a more natural, non-isolated environment? Would that affect their propensity for addiction?

The researchers built a 95 square foot environment to house a group of 20 rats (both sexes). They equipped this environment with wheels for the rats to run, shelters to hide in, and space to move around in. This place was so nice for the rats that it was given the name “the Rat Park.”

One section of the Rat Park

What Happened

Guess what happened? In the rat park, rats were given the choice between plain tap water and water laced with morphine. To the surprise of many, in this new natural environment, most of the rats chose the plain water! Alexander wrote, “Nothing that we tried produced anything that looked like addiction in rats that were housed in a reasonably normal environment.” Even more amazing, rats that were previously addicted to morphine slowly weaned themselves off the drug when placed in the Rat Park. You can read more about these experiments here and here.

For a variety of reasons, Alexander’s work has not gotten the widespread attention that it deserves. Even though he was able to replicate the results of his study, Alexander says his research was “dropped like a stone” in the addiction community. He and his colleagues, who were all just starting out in their careers, moved on to other pursuits. Part of the problem may have been timing: The Rat Park experiments were published in the early 1980s, just as the war on drugs — with its “just say no” and “this is your brain on drugs” PR campaign — was taking hold.

What It Means

I believe that what Alexander and his fellow researchers demonstrated has profound implications for how we understand addiction and how we go about treating it. I have come to believe that careful attention to one’s emotional and spiritual well-being is THE central task of recovery. Our relational, emotional, and spiritual “environment” will make or break our recovery.

Let me put it another way: If your life sucks, it’s really hard to stay sober. You can do it, but it’s really hard, and it’s hard to sustain. It takes a huge effort, laser focus, and lots of time. The fact is, this is how recovery starts for most people. They enter into recovery because their lives suck — their lives are spinning out of control and they are depressed … that’s why they keep turning to their addictive behavior.

So in early recovery we start out from a place of spiritual and emotional ill-health — and in order to get and stay sober, we’ve got to do “whatever it takes.” People often need to take extreme measures: Continue reading What lab experiments can tell us about the cause and cure for addiction

The Key to Overcoming Hurts in Recovery … and Maybe it’s not Forgiveness

When people have hurts and struggles in relationships, they tend to work on resolving them by focusing on forgiveness. There’s nothing wrong with forgiveness, but sometimes it’s hard to get there.

Maybe we should be talking more about compassion instead. Let me explain.

We all know that we’re supposed to forgive people who hurt us, but we get hung up on what it means and how to do it. We struggle to make sense of the jumble of emotions we still feel, even after we’ve made that seemingly momentous decision to forgive. The focus of forgiveness is often on what amounts to quasi-legal/moral decision – to pardon someone, or “let them off the hook.” Then we often struggle to sort out what happens internally after we make that “decision to forgive.”

A Different Way

I want to suggest a different approach. If you’re struggling to let go of some hurt, forget about forgiveness for now, and instead just focus on compassion.

Webster’s defines compassion as: “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion is what happens when Continue reading The Key to Overcoming Hurts in Recovery … and Maybe it’s not Forgiveness

When does “looking” become “lusting”?

When does a look become lust? Where is line that separates normal, healthy, God-given sexual response from sinful, destructive lust?

Christians generally focus on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28 as the standard for moral purity: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So if this is our goal, we need to be clear about what it actually means to “look at a person lustfully.”

Let’s say you go to a restaurant. You look over to your left, and notice someone at the next table who is very attractive. Maybe they are dressed provocatively. You look at them, and their attractiveness registers in your mind. You might even notice something about their body that is attractive or alluring.

Is that lust? When does awareness and/or sexual attraction cross the line into lust?

Christians have been wrestling with this question for generations. Many wise people have written and taught about this. Let me suggest three words that are helpful in drawing the line between looking and lusting:

1. Looking becomes lusting when we stare

Intuitively we all know that there is some difference between looking at someone and staring at them. It’s one thing look at, or notice someone, it’s another to intensely watch them, to “visually feast on them.”

This is where the much maligned and often misunderstood “two-second rule” applies. The two-second rule suggests that looking at someone for a short amount of time is normal and socially acceptable. But looking at someone for more than two seconds constitutes staring and generally signifies crossing the line into lust.

While trying to legalistically apply this “rule” doesn’t work very well, understanding the principle behind it can be helpful.

Neuroscientists tell us that if we look at something intently for an extended period of time, that image gets burned into our brain, and we can recall the image later. We encounter millions of images and sensory impressions as we go through each day. Most of these we either ignore or pay such scant attention to that we can’t recall them later. They move in and out of our consciousness and aren’t retained.

But some of these images and sensory impressions make a deeper impression. They are retained if we pay focused attention to them … if we “take a mental picture.” That’s what happens if we stare at someone.

Let’s go back to the restaurant example. So you see someone who is attractive and/or dressed in such a way that catches your attention and possibly even creates a minor sexual response. But then, instead of fixating on that, you turn your attention elsewhere. You get involved in a conversation with your companion(s), and other thoughts, sights, and sounds take up our attention. It doesn’t take long for that earlier stimulus to fade, as your consciousness is filled with other thoughts and other stimuli.

But if you were staring, you were burning that image into your memory. Later that day, if you sat down and closed your eyes, you could probably call to mind that person, or that image.

2. Looking becomes lusting when we fantasize

Sometimes we do this while we stare: we build a fantasy in our minds about the person we are starting at. We imagine talking to this person, starting a relationship with this person, or doing something sexual with this person. In the later instance, way we are literally “committing adultery in our minds” as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:28.

When we start to obsess about the person, when we spin stories or scenarios in our minds about them, then we have crossed the line into lust.

3. Looking becomes lusting when we objectify

To objectify someone is to cease to view them as a person, and instead view them as an object. We do this when we focus on a person’s body – or body parts – instead of focusing on them as a person. Then we move from relating to them as a human being to thinking about them, looking at them, maybe even evaluating them in the same detached, objectifying way we might look at a pornographic picture.

Habitual pornography users can struggle to build healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex because of this tendency. Viewing pornography trains you to objectify people, focusing on their body and sexuality. Sexual thoughts can intrude in your consciousness as you are trying to relate on a social level with someone.

You can probably see that these three words — staring, fantasizing, and objectifying — are related, and they often go together in practice. If you’re staring at someone, you might also be fantasizing about them. If you are fantasizing about someone, you might also be undressing them in your mind … objectifying them.

Obviously things like pornography, sexual chat, and erotic stories all fit into this category of lusting. They don’t satisfy our sexual desire, they feed it and create desire for more. They don’t build intimacy. They don’t bring people together. They alienate people, because they train people to objectify and fantasize, rather than to love, serve, and relate.

Our goal is to treat other people with love and with dignity as persons. When we view people primarily as objects for our viewing and critique, or view them primarily from the standpoint of potential sexual partners, we are severely limiting the ways in which we can connect on a human, non-sexual level.