The Ugly Truth

Every once in a while I read something that simply resonates on an intimate level because its veracity is unquestionable. That’s fairly ironic given the theme of this post. This hit me on a guttural level. Perhaps you’ll find your own truth herein, as well.

A Fractured Faith

I used to lie all the time. In fact I became rather good at it. I lied to my wife. I lied to my kids. I lied to my mother and sister. I lied to my friends and work colleagues. I lied to anyone who I was engaged in conversation with for any length of time. I lied face to face. I lied on the phone. I lied via text message. I lied online. I liked to lie. I was a walking, talking lie-ability.

I even lied to myself. And I was such an accomplished liar that even I began to believe myself. I still continued to believe that I was a more or less honest, upstanding husband, father, son, brother and so on. Like any addict I was delusional. I thought I could stop lying at any time and return to the real world. Every lie, however, took me…

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New Year, New You

What…a load…of crock…

New Year, New You. All you have to do is look around. Do it. Look around. This phrase is everywhere. There are newspaper articles, health magazine write-ups, Pinterest boards, television news spots – even entire categories at bookstores and on cooking websties – devoted to those four words.

New Year, New You is all about the latest and greatest in the worlds of fitness, health, nutrition, organization, wellness, money management and more. That comes as no surprise given the propensity this time of year to manifest interest or rededicate time and effort toward achieving or striving toward goals founded in those categories.

According to a 2015 Nielsen study, these are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions as of 2015.

  • Stay fit and healthy
  • Lose weight
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Spend less, save more
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Get organized
  • Will not make any resolutions
  • Learn something new/new hobby
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Let’s be brutally honest here. For the most part, these goals are at best broad, vague, and open to interpretation and at worst unrealistic and unlikely to be maintained. While statistics vary, of the minority of the population who set resolutions, approximately eighty percent will have failed at keeping their resolutions by February. Less than a month.

That’s why my favorite category up there is those who resolve not to make a resolution. It’s a lot harder to fail at that one. The odds of someone who has no intentions of making a resolution turning around and setting a major goal in the first month of the year are drastically less likely than the odds of someone who made a resolution dropping the ball.

But really, as arbitrary and nondescript as most of those resolutions are, they’re conceivably manageable, so why is the general propensity to simply not keep them? Why do we find ourselves year after year setting the same resolutions and forgetting about them completely by March?

Well, for starters, this New Year, New You phenomenon is nothing more than a watered down kick in the pants. The whole concept of a New Year’s Resolution is a fabricated sense of urgency designed to motivate us to be different based on nothing more than the number at the end of the year growing larger by one. January 1, 2018 is no different than any other Monday, unless of course you got the day off from work because it was a holiday.

There’s about as much motivation in becoming a new you in the new year as there is when your mother, father, sister, brother, significant other, friend, flight attendant or parole officer tells you that it’s time for a change. If you haven’t hit rock bottom, your habits, addictions, and compulsive behaviors are going to stay right where they are.

People who set New Year’s Resolutions often do so by first looking back over the previous year – or years. When we look back, things don’t always look so good. We’re unhappy with how we spent our time or our money, so we resolve to change that. But it’s hard not to keep living in the past. It’s hard to do something new – something different.

It’s also hard to stop living in those memories of the past. When we start thinking about how we’ve spent our time and our money, it’s easy to become convinced that changing that not only isn’t probable, it’s impossible. It becomes easy to look back at our shortcomings and deem them failures. And no sooner have we deemed our shortcomings failures than we extrapolate that sentiment and decide that we, ourselves, are failures. And if I’m a failure, then I certainly stand no chance at succeeding in carrying out these new endeavors I’ve resolved to complete.

But negative self-talk isn’t the only thing hampering our success. Many of us who set resolutions do so for the wrong reasons. We aren’t motivated to change because the impetus for setting these goals in the first place was effectively peer pressure. We jumped on the bandwagon. Oh, look, a new year is coming, and all of my friends are setting resolutions. I guess I should do that, too. I mean, after all, there are things in my life that need to change.

Guess what. That kind of motivation isn’t motivation at all. The only thing it’s motivating is the assurance that you’re going to jump off the bandwagon just as quickly as you jumped on. Yes, research does indicate that those persons who undertake a new endeavor and make it a habit are much more likely to continue that new habit at a higher sustained level than those who merely dabble, but the odds of your compulsive self being the one who pours time and effort into bettering yourself based on a new year’s resolution are slim to none.

It’s that very same research which supports the practice of going to 90 meetings in 90 days. As a matter of fact, that practice even serves more than one purpose. Not only does it generally solidify the habit of attending meetings, it also ensures that people are going to meetings regularly at a time when they are bound to struggle the most.

So that’s tip number one. If you really want to commit to making a life change, go all in. Don’t wait for some arbitrary date, like January 1, to decide that you’re going to get sober or stop eating everything you see. While special dates are easy to remember (Trust me, a guy in my home group celebrates his anniversary on Valentine’s Day. He doesn’t forget it, and neither does anyone else.), they aren’t necessarily motivating.

Your first day is going to be the day you’re done. For me, I was done lying. More than anything else, that’s what I gave up. That doesn’t mean I don’t lie anymore, but it does mean that I’m not constantly working to cover my tracks. That was the ultimate motivation I needed. You’ll know what it is you’re ready to be done doing.

And as for being successful, most people don’t get sober right away. It’s a process. During the height of my disease, there were several times when I merely white-knuckled it. I knew that I had control. I knew that I could quit whenever I wanted to. But those months were some of the crappiest months of my life. And, of course, I went right back to it.

Then, a time came when I entered recovery. I began the recovery process. Now I realize this is different for everyone, but I definitely started the program and didn’t get sober right away. I struggled with white-knuckling. I struggled with turning things over to God. I still struggle with that today. I had lapses and relapses. That’s pretty common. It’s also tip number two.

Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t quit just because you’ve had a relapse. Relapse isn’t failure. For almost everyone it’s just part of the process – especially the early phases and stages. If you can forgive yourself for relapses early in the program, I think you’ll have much better odds of getting back on the horse and attending to the program rather than returning to your disease because you’ve branded yourself a failure.

The bottom line is that wherever you go, there you are. That may seem a bit obvious, but it matters. That means that the me I take to rehab is still me. The me I take into a new marriage is still me. The me I take to a new state to get away from a bad relationship or to keep from hanging around a bad crowd is still me. You take you with you everywhere. The only person you have the ability to influence and change, then, is you.

You don’t need a new year to affect change and bring about a new you. What you need is the desire to be somebody different – a desire to do things differently – a desire to be different. If a new years resolution spurs you toward real life change, great. Good for you. You are the exception to the rule.

The rest of us will just keep waiting until there’s nothing left to do but get better or die.

– Alex Walker

Do couples get sober together?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part two of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

Do couples get sober together, or should they just work on themselves?

This question could mean a few different things, so I want to be sure that I address each potential meaning. The question could be, if two people in a relationship are both battling addictive and/or compulsive behaviors, should they get sober together? It could also be, if one partner struggles with chemical or process addiction issues and their partner is codependent, should they get sober together? Alternatively, one might ask why they should do any work ‘getting sober’ when their partner is the one who is addicted.

The simple answer is that if one person in a relationship is seeking recovery, chances are exceptionally high that the other person should also be pursuing their own recovery. But sometimes we simply have to settle for one person taking care of themselves while the other partner remains uneducated, uninformed, and unwilling. Or, in all honesty, sometimes we just have to wait for them to become willing because if there’s one thing we know, it’s that an unwilling participant is unlikely to be productive in their own recovery.

To be clear, while couples should get sober together, that quite explicitly means that they should work on themselves at the same time. Still foggy?

The only person I can change is me. The only person you can change is you.

In recovery we talk about sides of the street. We are each responsible, and truly only capable, of keeping our side of the street clean. It’s tempting, particularly for the codependent, to try to keep the other side of the street clean for our partner, but that’s not actually something we can achieve if we desire to maintain any sort of healthy sobriety.

We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own. (Big Book 77-78)

That means that we are responsible for the damage created by our own actions. Period. We are not responsible for the damage created by the actions of others. We are not responsible for picking up the pieces after someone else in our life speeds through like a whirling dervish leaving debris in their wake. We are not responsible for preventing someone else from wreaking havoc in their life or the lives of others. We are responsible for our choices. Our actions. The damage we have caused or inflicted.

I am responsible for me.
You are responsible for you.

It doesn’t matter what the struggle is, if you and/or your partner are dealing with chemical or process addictions, you need help. Go to meetings. Make phone calls. Work the program. It might be drugs, alcohol, love, sex, gambling. shopping, relationships, food, or anything else. There are groups for that. There are meetings for that. Find a meeting. Work on yourself. Get better.

With regard to the addict or alcoholic in your life: You didn’t get them drunk; you can’t make them sober.

That goes for everyone and everything.

Everyone has to work on themselves.

A lot of calls come into my office that are made by partners or concerned relatives. One of the primary questions I ask everyone who calls my office is, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” This matters. A lot. More than most people know or realize.

If you want the best for your loved one who is struggling with addiction or compulsive behavior, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. There are meetings for you. There are programs for you. There is help for you. There are others who have been where you are who are ready to share with you. Do the next right thing for you. You can’t make anyone else change their behavior and expect life-altering outcomes, but you can become the healthiest you imaginable.

Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum of addict or codependent or perceived normie partner, there is help available to you. You have to find it. You have to make an effort. You have to do the work if you want to change – if you want to get better, be better, do better. And, yes, of course life and recovery will be marvelously more successful if both partners are working to better themselves, but taking care of yourself is not the selfish thing you might think it is. There’s actually nothing more selfless than realizing your true potential rather than continuing to wade through the garbage of your codependency, complicity, or otherwise comorbid behavior.

Few of us come to Al-Anon hoping to change ourselves. More often we come because everything we have done to solve our problems has failed, and we have run out of ideas.

We come to Al-Anon for many different reasons but we stay for only one – we want our lives to get better. (How Al-Anon Works 6-7)

If you’re the partner, Al-Anon may be your best option. There are other types of meetings you might benefit from: Nar-Anon, S-Anon, ACoA, etc. But each of these meetings serves the primary purpose of speaking truth into our lives. These meetings provide opportunities for us to hear our story from other people. We can find hope and healing and truth and wisdom and peace in these rooms. And believe it or not, we partners might also benefit from attending Open Speaker meetings. That will give new insight and a new lens through which we might better understand the addict or alcoholic in our own lives.

Those meetings also have the ability to benefit the compulsive(s) in the relationship. I’ve never met an addict who wasn’t codependent. Just something to consider. You run the risk of offending hardcore codependents who feel like addicts only belong in their own meetings, but offending someone isn’t gonna stop me from becoming a happier, healthier person.

Do couples get sober together?

Yes. Kind of.

And meetings don’t have to be the only component couples pursue toward sobriety. Couples can also benefit from therapy or counseling sessions in both a one-on-one environment and as a couple. Professional help does not replace going to meetings and actively participating in the recovery community, but it can certainly augment working the program. In fact, many of us have the luxury of benefiting from therapists and counselors who are themselves in recovery.

If you need to go to a meeting that your significant other isn’t in to get sober, do so. Don’t limit yourself by feeling that you can’t share openly and honestly because a certain someone is in the room with you.

Do your thing.

Keep your side of the street clean.

Together you can become better people.

There’s no time like the present, especially since all we have is right now.

But be prepared for change. Be prepared to be a different person on the other side of recovery. Acknowledge that if and when one or both of you become different people, it might not necessarily strengthen your relationship. But that’s okay. Staying in that relationship might not be the best thing for you anyway.

What matters is that you’re working to take care of yourself. You’re working to be a better person. You’re trying to be healthy. You’re working to be the person God wants you to be.

So, yeah, couples get sober together, but they do so by working on themselves.

– Alex Walker

Pray About Everything

Part of living into the recovery lifestyle is developing the program. That word gets tossed around a lot. Program.

It means different things to different people – with good reason. While many elements of the program are basic and ubiquitous, it’s not uncommon for everyone’s program to look a little different.

After all, every recovery program includes specific direction for the individual who is implementing and following it. And even though general elements of the program will likely remain the same across the board, how those elements are lived out day by day might vary greatly.

A typical day might look something like this:

Every Morning

  1. As soon as your eyes open, get down on your knees and pray.
    1. Thank God for giving you another day.
    2. Ask God to help you stay sober/drug free that day.
    3. Ask God to show you what he wants to do through you.
  2. Pledge again that you will not use today.
  3. Read the elements of your program.
  4. Ask yourself if you want recovery and life or addiction and death.
  5. Remind yourself that:
    1. You are not in control. Your life had become unmanageable.
    2. Your God has the power and the desire to save you.
    3. Try to turn your life and will over to God as you understand God.
  6. Read the Bible.
  7. Read aloud the words of the step you are working on that day.
  8. Review your progress in working the steps, and continue that effort.

During The Day

  1. Avoid the people, places and things that may lead you to use.
  2. Remember your commitment to recovery.
  3. Carry on an ongoing conversation with God, praying often.
  4. “Change the channel” if you begin to think about using.
  5. Call someone if you feel that thought turn into a temptation.
  6. Attend meetings whenever possible.

Every Evening

  1. Review your progress in working the steps and continue that effort.
  2. Read the Bible.
  3. Get down on your knees and pray.
    1. Thank God for helping during the day.
    2. Ask God to help you stay sober/drug free tomorrow.
    3. Ask God to show you what he wants to do through you.

A few things about this daily routine immediately jump out at me: God, the Bible, and prayer.

It may seem to the newcomer like the goal of the program is to become sober and that such a goal is reached by attending meetings, working the steps, and maintaining a relationship with a sponsor.

Those elements are definitely necessary, but sobriety is merely a byproduct of the program. The primary purpose of the program is to achieve transformation, but not just any transformation – spiritual transformation. The steps, if worked well, should result in a spiritual experience – an awakening, as it is often referred to in the twelfth step.

And the only way for such results to come to fruition is by maintaining a relationship with God. We do that the same way we carry on a relationship with anyone else – talking and spending time together.

That’s why daily meditation is an integral part of successfully working the program.

Meditation is not a scary word. Meditation doesn’t have to contemplative or follow any eastern traditions. It can, but it doesn’t have to. Meditation needn’t use mantras or repetitive vocalizations or the lotus position.

Meditation simply requires that we spend time deliberately studying and reflecting on God and the lessons we need to learn to make through another day.

Just like the church and Christian authors put out daily devotions that include scripture, motivation, and inspiration, the recovery community does likewise. They may not be called devotionals, but they serve a similar purpose.

Narcotics Anonymous, for example, has a book of daily meditations for recovering addicts called Just For Today. As the schedule above indicates, we can also use our morning and evening times of meditation to read the Bible and other recovery literature. Working the steps, for instance, is not a one and done experience. We should always be working our way back through one or all of the steps. I mean, there’s a reason steps 10-12 are called maintenance steps, after all.

Just for Today reminded me this morning that the NA Basic Text tells us “that our Higher Power will take care of us” (58). This, as is often the case, pulled me to a reading from my home group meeting this week. My Monday night SA meeting is a literature study in which we’re currently working our way through the White Book (think the Big Book, but for sex addicts).

We’re currently working our way through a section on steps 6 and 7 dealing with character defects and taking ownership for the wrongs we commit. We learned in step 3 that it was necessary for us to turn our life and will over to the care and loving concern of God. The author says that when he did that, “it really worked. All [his] emotional, spiritual, physical, and material needs were being met, one day at a time” (121). He goes on to ask why we aren’t also giving all of our wrongs over to the God of our understanding.

Clearly we will suffer under the weight of our wrongs until they kill us if we simply attempt to hold onto them. Many of us have tried, unsuccessfully, foisting them off on others. What would happen if we gave them over to God?

This is what happened for one man who tried just that. “Every time [he] surrendered a wrong…it worked.” He didn’t do much. He didn’t go into a great amount of detail. he didn’t have to because God knows our hearts and minds. God just wants us to trust in the provision that we will be taken care of. So whenever he wanted to give something to God he’d say something like this: “I don’t want to bear this; I want you to bear it for me; I cast in onto you” (121).

It can be that simple. Short. Sweet. To the point.

We don’t get bonus stars for using flowery language or having the right thing to say in prayer and supplication because there is no right (or wrong) thing to say. We just have to say something.

The author of the White Book concludes this section by telling us that this practice has never failed him. Not once. Every time he took to opportunity to surrender a defect to God, God graciously took it from him.

The only potential problem with this theory is that we, as addicts, are not incredibly sane. Even if we’ve had the experience that God will take something from us when we make such a request, we have difficulty believing that we’ll receive the same result another time. So we hesitate. Or we don’t ask. Or we hold on until we reach our breaking point.

But we don’t have to.

This is why we check in regularly – with God, with our sponsor, with ourselves.

If there’s top shelf stuff, we need to find a way to deal with that. Not later. Right now.

But as for God, we don’t need to worry about what God can handle. God’s got this. So don’t hesitate to take whatever temptations, resentments, or fears you’re holding onto and turn them over to the God of your understanding.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

– Alex Walker

Disturbed

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but once in a while as I’m reading recovery literature my eyes see the words on a page and my mind goes, “What the hell does that mean?”

I think this happens to many of us, especially early on in our recovery during our first read through of material. If we’re in a healthy relationship with a sponsor or accountability partners, we might ask questions. The rest of us would suffer through our ignorance if not for a lovely little thing called the world wide web. I don’t trust everything out there, but it can definitely be a valuable resource.

One of the phrases that can be found in many of the basic texts for multiple anonymous groups goes something like this: if we are disturbed, there is always something wrong with us.

So, what they’re saying is essentially that if someone makes me angry or pisses me off or shares something that I find to be triggering, it’s not their fault.

Well, no. Not exactly.

Just as “we can no longer blame people, places and things for our addiction,” we can also no longer blame people, places, and things for our reactions. While it’s easy to blame someone else for the way I feel, I’m making a choice in each of those situations and circumstances.

It may not always seem like that, but it’s true. Someone explained it to me recently like this: instead of responding like an adult, I am responding to a person or situation or stimulus like a child.

Now that makes a lot of sense because, in many ways, our addictions and compulsive behaviors have allowed us to become trapped in our childhoods or adolescence. We kept aging physically, but our emotional capacity and faculties were suspended when we began acting out. In recovery – in true sobriety – we are picking up where we left off and learning how to react and interact on a level more equitable with our physical development.

We are slowly but surely maturing. We are becoming real adults.

And adults take responsibility for their actions and reactions rather than blaming others.

The White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous quotes and expounds on the 12&12 by saying that “no matter what wrong the other party has done, if we are disturbed, there is always something wrong with us. Especially in the area of attitude.”

That in no way absolves the other person(s) of their wrong, but we have to come to a place where we realize and understand that nobody else is responsible for the way we act. The onus for my attitude, unfortunately, rests squarely on my shoulders.

I’m reminded of the old cliche that says something along the lines of ‘whenever you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.’ We want to deflect. We want to redirect. We want to blame and manipulate and control and manage. But growing in recovery requires that “we must face our problems and our feelings.”

My attitude, my demeanor, can definitely be influenced by others. If you know me at all, you know that I have a tendency (and perhaps an inability not to) wear my emotions on my sleeve. If I am disturbed, it’s hard for me to keep that in check. and I don’t always think to call my sponsor, give it up to God, or share it with someone so it’s out in the open. Sometimes I just wear it – proudly even – practically daring people to knock the chip off my shoulder.

But what I should do is recognize that I’m disturbed, address it, and move on.

It’s the 12& 12 which tells us that our role in our disturbances is a spiritual axiom, but the Big Book does a phenomenal job of explaining what it looks like to come to a place of acceptance.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Dang, that hits hard. “I can find no serenity until…” Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Don’t we say that Serenity Prayer at every meeting and countless times in between?

So next time you’re stuck in traffic behind someone going 25 in a 45, God bless ’em, you have the opportunity to choose whether to curse them out and raise your blood pressure or to say a little prayer and move on with life. For that matter, ask yourself why you’ve only allowed just enough time to get from point A to point B. You could build in commute time. I promise. It’s possible.

Next time your coworker uses that same pat phrase or plays with his stapler or blows her nose or uses their pencils as drumsticks, you don’t have to react. You can respond. You can let them know that you find their behavior obnoxious or annoying or unprofessional. Or you can choose to ignore them. You can choose not to get angry. You can choose to tune them out or turn on some tunes to drown them out.

Life comes in a series of moments. Those are what we live in. They’re known as the here and now. We don’t have the luxury of living in the past or languishing in the what if’s of the future. We get to live right now, and right now we must learn to accept that, even though things aren’t exactly as we might like them to be, we don’t have to allow that to get us down.

In the Grapevine in 1958 Bill W. wrote an article on emotional sobriety. In said article he stated that “if we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy demand.”

This leads me to the question I think we should spend a great deal more time asking ourselves – what is ymotivation? I think we should ask ourselves this question time and time again in practically every situation, but this query is an important one when we’re disturbed. Or more accurately, when we react to a disturbance.

But when we learn to examine our disturbances in such a way that we are led to identify our defects, only then can we ask God to do something about them, and only then can we make the conscious choice to knowingly do things differently.

One final thought, and it almost seems silly to address it at this point, but I never talked specifically about what it means to be disturbed. I guess, perhaps, that’s because we all understand, in our own way, what it means when we are disturbed just as we understand what it means when we are triggered. In much the same way as triggers, disturbances can be positive, negative, or neutral.

So, when you find yourself reacting, recognize that what you’re reacting to is some sort of disturbance. Identify it. Put it in the light. And make a choice. You can choose to keep reacting just as you always have. Or you can choose instead to respond.

– Alex Walker

Oh, because you’ve gotten this far and it’s such a wonderful cover, here’s Disturbed singing Sounds of Silence.

Whose fault is it?

Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in a series called Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

“Hi, my name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, Bill. We’re glad you’re here.”

“I’ve been drinking pretty much every day since I was twelve years old. I remember that first sip of beer. It was awful – tasted like stale horse piss, but the feeling it gave me before I threw up was incredible. I’d finally found a way to escape the way I felt, the way he made me feel. He used to come into my room at night whenever he spent the night with my brother. I knew it was wrong because it didn’t feel right, but he threatened to kill my dog if I told anyone about it. While I used to thank God that boy drove me to drink, drinking has caused me more grief than he ever did. That’s really as much as I want to get into right now. Thanks for being here, and thanks for letting me share.”

“Thanks for sharing, Bill.”
“You’re in the right place.”
“Keep coming back.”

This is a familiar script for those of us in recovery. We introduce ourselves. We share our story. We step back to let someone else take the spotlight.

We don’t dive too deep right out of the gate, and we don’t dawdle. The more time we spend sharing, the longer the focus is on us. The longer the focus is on us, the less comfortable we get because we’re more likely to share real truth and real brokenness if we keep talking.

But as we sit and listen to other people share their experiences, we hear our stories. We come to realize that we are not alone. There are others like us. We are not terminally unique. As a matter of fact, we are so alike in some ways it’s uncanny.

For instance, we all have a desire, and therefore a tendency, to blame. You see, my drinking or drugging or acting out in whatever manner I see fit is clearly not my fault. I will latch onto anything or anyone in order to place blame squarely outside my realm of responsibility.

Unlike a lot of other games, the blame game is not something we play for fun. It’s something we play to survive. It’s something we play in a desperate attempt to cling to our sanity. It’s something we play to make sense of decisions we’ve made which would otherwise be inexplicable without some sort of excuse.

It’s natural to place blame. It’s natural to want to place blame. But that doesn’t make it healthy.

While there are plenty of things we could (and have) blamed for our addictions, there are only a few risk factors which are commonly accepted as actually to blame (so to speak) for the addictions in our lives:

  • Genetic predisposition to addictive/compulsive behavior
  • Early exposure to/use of maladaptive coping mechanisms (drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, relationships, etc.)
  • Social environment (the culture one was educated or lives in & the people/institutions with whom they interact)
  • Mental illness (conditions affecting thinking, feeling, mood)
  • Childhood trauma (or a traumatic experience later in life)

Embracing the above issues as risk factors requires a certain level of acceptance in the disease model of addiction. According to WHO, “a risk factor is any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease.”

Recognizing and identifying risk factors is NOT a means of placing blame. Recognizing and identifying risk factors provides an opportunity to better understand who I am and what contributes to who I’ve become. People who experience that exact same risk factors are likely to come through them differently. But these underlying risk factors must be addressed if someone wants to gain and maintain sobriety.

How is this different from playing the blame game?

The blame game is an attempt to pass the buck. The blame game offers an opportunity to make excuses, whereas identifying the root causes of our addictions, compulsions, and destructive behaviors highlights the things in our lives which need to be addressed. These are the places we need to work, and oftentimes, we need to work on these things and/or identify them with the help of a professional. It pays off in the long run to recognize that there are simply things we cannot do without the proper education and training. All the personal experience in the world is not enough to plumb the depths of someone else’s underlying issues (which may include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, and trauma).

In life we make choices. I hope we see and understand now that those choices can be influenced by a myriad of unseen and often unrecognized factors. But we also have to recognize that if we’re living out an addictive lifestyle, we’ve made some bad choices along the way. And instead of recognizing and addressing those initial poor decisions, we perpetuated them until we found ourselves here.

But blaming ourselves isn’t going to make us better any faster either. If anything, self-blame may lead us deeper into the spiral of addiction by re-initiating the cycle of guilt and shame. That’s why those of us who struggle need to recognize our roles in acting out and, rather than blaming ourselves, accept responsibility for our actions. Only then are we presented with the opportunity to move forward as a result of our rigorous honesty.

There’s another side of this blame game. No person goes through life alone. Our actions and decisions affect those around us, whether we choose to believe that or not. And it’s easy for those of us whose loved ones struggle with addictions or compulsive behaviors to take that blame and place it squarely on ourselves. This is even more true when the person(s) in our life who struggles is a spouse or a child. We’re supposed to have some responsibility to and authority over those people in our lives. At the very least, they are in our immediate circle of influence. How could their struggles not be my fault?

You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.
Your loved one’s addiction is the result of a myriad of factors colliding, but you did not cause their addiction and indeed are not capable of doing so. Unless you were in some way abusive toward them, chances are you’re not even a contributing factor to their current behavior and mindset. Feeling guilty and responsible won’t make them better; it’ll only make you worse. And with regard to making them better, the only one with that power is them. They might need rehab or accountability or therapy or jail or any combination thereof, but they won’t change until they’re ready.

Alright, what can I do?

Recognize that rock bottom is a bit of an ambiguous term.
Most addicts have to hit rock bottom before they find the path toward recovery, but that looks different for everyone. Just because something happens in their life that you would like to identify as their bottom doesn’t mean that they’ll see it that way. You can’t force it.

Use love appropriately.
Love is not a bargaining chip. If you try to leverage your love for them as collateral for sobriety, you’re going to end up without them. Love them unconditionally; just don’t allow love to lead you into the trap of taking care of them. (which leads us to our next point)

Don’t bail them out.
They will get in trouble. Maintaining an addictive or compulsive lifestyle always leads to headaches and problems. Your loved one will undoubtedly participate in behavior you never would’ve imagined and might not even believe possible. When they do, let them suffer the consequences. Perhaps letting them take responsibility for their actions rather than enabling them will be an enlightening experience (for all parties involved).

Take care of yourself.
Self-care is not selfish – it’s necessary, it’s healthy, and it’s vastly underutilized. The best thing you can do for your loved one is ensure your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Go to meetings. Pursue hobbies. Have lunch with friends. Do what you need to do to make sure that when everything hits the fan, you have the skills and abilities to deal with that in an appropriate manner.

Don’t give up hope.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

Well I know everyone that there’s no need to know in this city
I watch them all walk over one another
But we all day it so there’s no one to blame
I mastered myself. I found out all there was to find out
And if I didn’t have bad health I’d have none at all
And maybe we were supposed to be somewhere else
I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t wear itself out unnaturally
I’m falling down the stairs to the beat of second guessing
I can pick it up halfway down on any street and take it home with me
I’m falling fast
I’m low and I’m guilty

No One To Blame
Cheap Girls

“In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest analysis of what is involved, a willingness to admit when the fault is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p.91 Step Ten

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 17-18

And so, together, we move away from a place of blame and into the freedom of peace which comes from a relationship with our higher power, Jesus.

– Alex Walker

Roar!

“Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8


Do you know what I left out?

I’m not even sure I was fully aware what I’d left out. That verse is incomplete. That verse up there is 1 Peter 5:8b from the New International Version. The first part of that verse says, “Be alert and of sober mind.”

To be of sober mind is like being physically sober, only in a more metaphorical sense. So, to be sober originally meant that someone was “completely unaffected by wine” (TDNT IV, 936). That’s a lot like how we use the term sobriety today in recovery. It means that we are not under the influence of our drug of choice.

Being of sober mind, then, implies “the unequivocal and immediately self-evident antithesis to all kinds of mental fuzziness” (IV, 937). In other words, we should be clear headed. The passages just before this in Peter’s  letter talk about putting off pride in favor of humility and letting God take anxious feelings from us. We have the ability and the opportunity to let go and let God, but we resist doing so because we feel like we should be able to do it ourselves. We’re too proud to ask for help. We’ve been taught to be self-reliant or pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Some of us don’t even have our own bootstraps. We don’t have our own boots. We lost them because they weren’t as important to us as finding the next fix.

The 12&12 teaches us that “pride lures us into making demands upon ourselves or upon others which cannot be met without perverting or misusing our God-given instincts” (49). There are a couple of important things here. One is that we have God-given instincts. God has provided us with something to fall back on. Our sense of right and wrong is innate. We just have to figure out how to tap into it.

Another is that we should not be making demands of ourselves or others. We aren’t in the right frame of mind. We are confused by our stinkin’ thinkin’. Our own best thinking got us here in the first place. How clear could our heads possibly be? We’re neither sober in body or mind.

God called his people to be vigilant through Peter’s letter by using imagery common to the people of the day. Whether it’s obvious or not, there was a real likelihood for the first century Palestinian shepherd that a lion might stalk and attack their sheep. Just as a shepherd who is supposed to be guarding his sheep should work diligently to remain awake and of sound mind, so, too, should we remain watchful and aware of our surroundings.

Let’s be real for a minute. There aren’t a lot of lions roaming around in our lives. But just as the lion hides among the thicket, crouching and ready to pounce on her prey, our disease of addiction is “cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us” (AA, 10). Temptation lies around many corners and often appears in unexpected places.

Have you shown up to a high school reunion lately? All sorts of emotions and anxieties we haven’t experienced in decades can come rushing back to us in an instant. Additionally, some of the people we used to act out with are now staring us in the face expecting us to be the same person we were as teenagers. It’s a perfect storm.

That’s why we have to be prepared. That’s why we need to have a plan. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system in place. That’s why working the program is a daily part of our lives.

That way, when the unexpected rears its head, we aren’t overcome and overwhelmed by the desire to fall back into our old roles and habits.

But don’t fall into the trap that it’s just old haunts and triggers that will push us over the edge. It’s usually not one thing that leads us to a place where we momentarily set aside our newly acquired values, give into temptation, and experience a relapse. Relapse is the result of an unfortunate series of events that were not properly dealt with along the way.

We tend to have a lapse before we have a relapse. We tend to forgo talking to our sponsors or others who we know will hold us accountable. We experience a disturbance and convince ourselves that we can handle it instead of dealing with it as a top shelf issue. In reality, there’s not great difference between a newcomer white knuckling through months or years of sobriety and an old-timer taking on a disturbance alone.

To do so is to forget that “every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us” (12&12, 90). But it’s so easy not to ask the question, “Where am I in this?” that we bypass that step and move on as though nothing of significance has happened. What we fail to recognize is that not addressing what part we play takes us to an unhealthy head space which in turn has the potential to snowball back into unmanageability.

What is truly cunning, baffling and powerful within the disease of addiction is that it’s a spiritual disease, and as such, what we’re really battling is the oppressive enemy, Satan. That’s why we claim Jesus Christ as our Higher Power: the only possible victorious solution to defeat an enemy who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” is a God who come to Earth that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).

So while our enemy might be like a lion hunting it’s prey, we don’t have to be like the warthog in the above video. We don’t have to succumb to spiritual death or physical death any longer. The White Book says that we have been “dying of guilt, fear, and loneliness” (2). Well we don’t have to live that way anymore.

If we can learn to keep and open mind and attempt living life differently, we might find that there are all sorts of things we’re capable of accomplishing which never seemed possible before. But for that to be the case, we must submit to the authority of God and the wisdom of those who have gone before us.

That’s not to say that everyone who has experience knows what they’re talking about, but the collective wisdom of those with some sober time under their belts is a heck of a lot better than the decisions one person has been making in a vacuum.

It boils down to this: if we want to live the best lives possible, we have to find ways to exist in a place and space of right thinking and right action. One might come easier than the other, and that’s okay. This is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, and no two people will get there the exact same way.

But with God as our guide, we should find that our desire to do the next right thing grows as our relationship with God becomes stronger and more solidified.

Dear God, I’m sorry about the mess I’ve made of my life. I want to turn away from all the wrong things I’ve ever done and all the wrong things I’ve ever been. Please forgive me for it all. I know you have the power to change my life and can turn me into a winner. Thank you, God, for getting my attention long enough to interest me in trying it your way. God, please take over management of my life and everything about me. I am making this conscious decision to turn my will and my life over to your care and am asking you to please take over all parts of my life. Please, God, move into my heart. However you do it is your business, but make yourself real inside me and fill my awful emptiness. Fill me with your love and Holy Spirit and me me know your will for me. And now, God, help yourself to me and keep on doing it. I’m not sure I want you to, but do it anyhow. I rejoice that I am now a part of your people, that my uncertainty is gone forever, and that you now have control of my will and my life. Thank you and I praise your name. Amen

3rd Step Prayer, Dr. Bob

– Alex Walker