Category Archives: Spirituality

Accepting and dealing with inner emptiness

A common result of growing up with trauma and deprivation is what some therapists call an inability to “self sooth.” In healthy families parents model and teach their kids how to comfort themselves when they feel angry, stressed, or sad. When that doesn’t happen – especially when kids grow up with an over-abundance of stress and sadness – this is experienced as an inner emptiness that gives rise to unhealthy coping strategies later in life (including addictions, workaholism, and codependency).

This inner emptiness is a challenge for many people, and it doesn’t just go away when we grow in a relationship with God. The famous quote by Saint Augustine that “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God” is true enough about life in general, but we’re talking about the void that is created by suffering in early life and an absence of nurture.

This inner emptiness gives rise to addiction, and creates challenges for people in recovery. Many clients report that after experiencing some time of sobriety, they will struggle with times of “restlessness,” not knowing what to do with themselves. Think of being at home on a Sunday afternoon, and nothing sounds interesting or engaging enough to do. Nothing on TV, work projects seem to require too much energy, no social engagement planned … nothing seems appealing. This is often associated with depression, but it’s something more, and can be present even when other depressive symptoms are absent. It’s an inner emptiness, or restlessness. You used to cope with this by using, or acting out. Now what?

Let me offer a “Meditation Remix” (extended quote from a meditation book with a few adaptations by me). This is from a wonderful meditation book by Tian Dayton, called Forgiving and Moving On. Pick it up if you can. Here’s a remix of her meditation on “Accepting Emptiness.”

Today I see that anxiety arises inside of me when I fear my own inner emptiness. I run from the feeling and try to find activities to keep me from it. I will try something different today. I will accept the emptiness and allow it to be there. Rather than be anxious about it, I will realize that worry will not help remove or reduce it. I will relax and let the emptiness just be there without running away from it or resisting it.

Eventually the feeling will transform into something else and I will allow that to happen. Awareness of a painful state can be all that I need to transform that state into something different. It is in my resisting feeling states that they gain a hold over me – when I allow them to be, they are allowed the room to move and change.

I would add that if the emptiness really seems overwhelming, you may want to reach out to someone else. Make a call, visit a friend … do something outside of yourself. What Dayton is talking about is learning to manage our emotions by sitting with them and allowing them to be transformed. But sometimes – especially in early recovery – we may not be ready or able to do this, and we need to get out of our isolation.

But by all means, if you feel ready to try it, follow Dayton’s advice in this meditation. Sometimes the only way out is through, and the feeling of inner emptiness may be powerfully transformed just by facing it.

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A new study suggests that loneliness could be contagious

A new study suggests that feelings of loneliness can spread through social networks like the common cold.

“People on the edge of the network spread their loneliness to others and then cut their ties,” says Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School in Boston, a coauthor of the new study in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “It’s like the edge of a sweater: You start pulling at it and it unravels the network.”

Christakis and Fowler examined data from a long-term health study based in Framingham, Mass., a small town where many of the study’s participants knew each other. The Framingham study followed thousands of people over 60 years, keeping track of physical and mental heath, habits and diet.

Click here for a full article about this study on the lastingleaders.com website.

Facing our love / hate experience with God

I am increasingly convinced that spiritual inauthenticity is a major roadblock for many Christians in recovery. When we try to convince ourselves to believe something we don’t really believe, or when we struggle with thoughts and feelings about God that “we shouldn’t have,” we get stuck. There are no easy answers here, but I believe it is essential to face our questions, doubts, and jumble of feelings about God in an honest way if our recovery is going to be sustainable.

To that end, I want to share an article written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder of Committed to Freedom, an organization that helps “provide people with spiritual tools to move beyond abuse.” This article was sent in a newsletter, and I’m quoting it in its entirety, because I don’t know where I can link to. It’s worth reading.

This is an article about honesty . . . and honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with God. I’ve been on the up and down roller coaster of belief and doubt, righteousness and debauchery, faithfulness and apostasy. I know that’s disturbing to a lot of people, but God gets that completely . . . gets me completely. Gets you completely too.

Let me be the first to admit that I don’t have many answers, especially when it comes to God. Honestly, the ministry of Committed to Freedom began because of my own spiritual search for answers to questions that really have no good answers. The dilemma for anyone who has experienced trauma or suffering is to have co-existing contradictions. God is love. Suffering is real. God has the capacity to create. Trauma has the capacity to destroy. The idea of God being powerful and one who intervenes in the circumstances of our lives held up in contrast to unanswered prayer, vulnerable people being abused and exploited, or diseases that progress, ravage, and destroy. Like I said: love/hate.

Continue reading Facing our love / hate experience with God

Let go of worry

Very little of what we fear actually happens, which means that most of our fears cause us to worry unnecessarily. Doesn’t it make sense to learn how to better cope with fear?

I love the saying. “If you can’t do anything about it, why worry? And if you can do something about it, why worry?” This has helped me deal with many struggles in the past years of recovery.

So many of the things I worry about are things I can’t do anything to change anyway. So why not just let go of the worry, and deal with problems if – and only if – they come up? I think it was Mark Twain who said: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

On the other hand, if there are things I can do about a given situation, nothing will help ease the anxiety I have more effectively than taking action. It’s hard to worry when you’re taking action about something. This is not to suggest that we take action for action’s sake, or that we charge forward without thinking or planning ahead. The point is, if there are steps (or courses of action) we can take to deal with a situation that is causing us worry, stop worrying and do them!

If you can’t do anything about it, why worry? And if you can do something about it, why worry?

The following strategies can help, but of course, if you fear for your safety, get help right away:

  • Accept that fear is a normal and temporary way of feeling
  • Face your fears each day without resorting to addictive behavior to numb your feelings
  • Remind yourself that worrying about things you can’t control is a waste of time
  • Hand your fears over to God
  • Use the serenity prayer to let go of stress and worry
  • Keep working the steps of recovery, especially when your motivation is low
  • Spend time in fun, sober activities to take your mind off your problems

The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery – free teleseminar July 23

We’re hosting a free teleseminar on Thursday night, July 23. This teleseminar is open to anyone who’d like to learn more about recovery from sexual struggle, either for themselves or someone they know. The theme will be: The spiritual questions and challenges of recovery.

Many people who come into recovery with a strong religious background find that their faith complicates things. The reverse is also the case: their addiction complicates their experience of faith. They struggle to figure out why the spiritual approaches they tried in the past didn’t work. I have come to believe that for some of us who come out of church backgrounds, recovery will involve unlearning as well as learning. As the saying goes in AA, “it was our own best thinking that got us into the mess that we’re in.” Let’s face it: for many Christians, struggle with addiction creates a crisis of faith as well as a crisis of life and relationships.

Some people are disappointed or even angry at God for not answering their prayers for healing from their addiction in the past. Some people struggle with heightened sense of shame around their behaviors (“Since I’m a Christian and have access to God’s power to change my life, why am I not getting this?”).  Some people deal with unspoken questions and doubts about their faith. Other people find that approaches to recovery that involve compassion for their past wounding are hard to reconcile with the stern moralistic tone of what they have been taught is “biblical” Christianity. They find it hard to balance the psychological insights they encounter in recovery with the black and white “just trust God and don’t do it” teaching that they’ve grown accustomed to from their church.

In this teleseminar, I will address these spiritual challenges, talking about my own experiences of recovery after 15 years as a pastor of two evangelical churches. I’ll address topics such as:

  • Why so many prayers for recovery go unanswered
  • How “faith” helps and hinders recovery
  • What is God’s part and what is my part in recovery
  • How to deal with it as a believer when important recovery insights come from non-believers

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this topic! Many men that I know and work with in recovery are facing profound struggles with this topic, and there are few places where we can talk honestly about them. I certainly don’t want to present myself as having “arrived” in any way, shape, or form with respect to this issue, but I do want to share what I am learning.

When will it take place?
· Date: July 23 (Thursday)
· Time: 7:00pm, central standard time

How much will it cost? free

How long will it last? 60 minutes

To register, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com

Failure is never final in recovery

Failure

If recovery demanded perfection, then we would all be failures.
Our goal is progress, not perfection.
It has to be this way, since none of us will ever be perfect.

It is said that the only time we fail in recovery
is when we do not try again.
When we stumble or slip in our sobriety
or in our emotional and spiritual life
(and the three are always interrelated),
the important thing is to pick ourselves up and keep going.

We may lose battles here and there,
but if we rely on our Higher Power,
we will win the war.

None of us is free from temptation.
Even when we abstain from compulsive behavior
we may indulge in self-pity, envy, or anger.
There is always the danger of pride and self-will.

Maybe it is through our failures that
we become humble enough to seek
and accept God’s help.
If we could manage by ourselves,
we would have no need for a Higher Power.
A failure is an opportunity to start again.

This is adapted from Food for Thought, by Elisabeth L.

Training event for church leaders about how to help sexual strugglers

Helping the Sexual Strugglers*

A training event for pastors, church staff, and lay ministry leaders

June 4, 2009

Changes in society and the advent of the Internet have led to an epidemic of sexual struggle around the world. All are vulnerable, huge numbers of people are struggling, and for many the struggle has developed into a full-blown addiction. Church leaders are looking for ways of helping people caught in the web of compulsive sexual behavior. Our vision at Recovery Remixed is to provide teaching and guidance not only to sexual strugglers, but also to the ministry leaders who seek to help them. So we are jointly sponsoring this training event with Faithful and True Ministries for pastors, church staff, and ministry leaders.

Many people needlessly suffer because the church leaders providing teaching and care to them have limited knowledge about sex addiction /compulsive behavior and inadequate approaches to dealing with it. We want to present the findings from the latest research and our experience in working with strugglers, in the hope that more can be done to stem the tide of this growing problem.

Register today for this important training event for pastors and church leaders.

What is it?
Helping the Sexual Strugglers is a one-day training event for pastors, church staff, and small group leaders. Continue reading Training event for church leaders about how to help sexual strugglers

The first task of recovery: Establishing Sobriety

Pat Carnes is one of the “founding fathers” of the sex addiction field. One of his fundamental principles is that the first task of recovery is to “establish sobriety.” There are two ways to understand this, both of which are essential:

1. To establish sobriety, we must define it

First, we need to “establish” what we mean by sobriety. This is not as easy as it first appears. “Sobriety” – when used in reference to compulsive sexual behavior – is the state of living that is free from the addictive or compulsive behavior. Sexual sobriety is not the same thing as sexual purity … it’s not sexual perfection. It is the ongoing experience of abstaining from unhealthy, addictive sexual behaviors. But, of course, this begs the question … which behaviors are addictive, and which behaviors are healthy?

Recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs is simpler. Sobriety there means abstaining from the drug. Period. But sexual behaviors are much more varied, and recovery for most married people will not involve ongoing abstinence from sexual activity. The task of early recovery is to determine what kinds of sexual behaviors are healthy and lead to genuine intimacy, and which ones are unhealthy and destructive.

Some programs (such as Sex Addicts Anonymous) leave the definition of the specific behaviors in this category up to each individual addict. In these programs, each person decides for him or herself what behaviors are “off-limits”. Other programs are critical of this approach, believing that it creates too much room for self-delusion, and it allows people to define their sobriety so broadly that they don’t really make progress in addressing their problems.

Continue reading The first task of recovery: Establishing Sobriety