Category Archives: Questions & Answers

Q&A Part 7: Why me? Why now?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six 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.

If I could have the world and all it owns
A thousand kingdoms, a thousand thrones
If all the earth were mine to hold
With wealth my only goal

I’d spend my gold on selfish things
Without the love that Your life brings
Just a little bit more is all I’d need
Till life was torn from me

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me

Why me? Why now? Those are the questions we ask when tragedy strikes. Why God? How could you let this happen? Did I do something wrong for you to do this to me? Why me? Why now?

It’s been a year since I wrote I know it’s been a year not simply because my blog tells me when things were written but because my children turned one last week. And if my twins just celebrated their birthday, then it has also been one year since my friend Jason and his wife Amy lost their eldest child, Brad.

Why me? Why now? Why, on the very night that my children entered the world, were my friends struck by such unimaginable circumstances? Why do I get to hold my babies every night while they shed tears and laughter over memories of what was and what could have been? Why do we have to go through the ups and downs of life never knowing what tomorrow has in store? I don’t know.

That’s just part of it. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody else does, either. We can speculate and postulate until we’re blue in the face, but sometimes life just happens.

I’m tired of trying to explain everything. I’m tired of overthinking and second guessing and grasping at straws rather than trusting that God is in control. God’s got this. Does that mean that God wanted Bradley to die in a tragic accident? No, of course not. That’s not part of God’s plan. That’s not part of God’s justice. But God’s got this. God will provide. God will help us make the most of a lousy situation.

Why me? Why now? The questions make me sick to my stomach. Things happen in our lives that break our hearts. Sometimes we have to deal with the feeling on a recurring basis that our hearts are breaking over and over again. If we’re lucky, we realize that it’s a phase – it’s a season – we’ll get through it. But that’s hard. Knowing that God is in control makes it easier, but it doesn’t make it easy. We will get through it. Things will be better. If not now, eventually.

So we batten down the hatches. We weather the storm. We come to understand that even though things will be different on the other side, there is another side. We’re stuck now, but we’re not stuck here forever. Life goes on. We adjust to a new normal. We don’t have to like it, but we’re short on choices. And if it comes to trusting in God or relying on our own strength and abilities to get through, there’s really only one viable option.

My best thinking, my best laid plans, my desire to be in control, will be knocked down and thwarted every time. Temporary success is still doomed to failure if we aren’t willing or capable of turning things over to God. Why me? Why now? Cause that’s just the way it is, but everything in this life is temporary. Life with God is abundant and eternal.

Let’s stop asking why me and why now. Let’s start asking what’s next.

If I should walk the streets, no place to sleep
No faith in promises You keep
I’d have to way to buy my bread
With a bottle for my bed

But if I trust the one who died for me
Who shed his blood to set me free
If I live my life to trust in You
Your grace will see me through

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees

If I could have the world…

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 6: How Long?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six 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.

How long does it take?

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!”
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.

Psalm 13:1-3

How long will I have to be in rehab? How long will it take me to get sober? How many meetings do I have to go to?

When faced with the prospect of sobriety, time suddenly becomes a priority. Out of nowhere, time miraculously becomes valuable to us like it never has before.

You see, in active addiction time was important, but it had a completely different value. All I wanted to know was how long I had to myself because knowing that would allow me to maximize my priorities and minimize my necessities. Let me explain.

In active addiction, my propensity for and proclivity toward procrastination paid off tenfold. I figured out how to wash dishes or do laundry or run errands as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to not raise suspicion and allot the most time possible for acting out. Everything was about how much time I had to feed my addiction. That was more important than anything, and it only mattered minimally to me what suffered as a result thereof.

My need to seek and gain approval from others helped to keep some of that caring in check, but it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of my ‘free time’ was consumed by addictive and compulsive behavior. It would be difficult for me to quantify the hours, days, weeks, or months (at least) of my life that I sacrificed at the altar of escape or gratification or seeking something different or self-pity or affirmation or whatever.

And then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a place where we’re seeking help. We want to change. We want to be different. Maybe someone gave us an ultimatum, or we watched one of our friends die, or we’ve lost everything. No matter how we got to that point, we find ourselves there – often wallowing in feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, and a milieu of other overwhelming emotions. And we want to know how long it’s going to take to get sober.

Never mind that time wasn’t a priority while I was getting high. Time wasn’t a priority when I was drinking to blackout on a regular basis. Time wasn’t a priority when I was neglecting my relationships, my job, my obligations, my health, and anything else in life that got in the way of my next hit.

No, all of a sudden my job matters more than my sobriety. My ability to hold onto a failing relationship or step into a new relationship matters more than my sobriety. My kids getting to bed at a reasonable hour or having me at home with them suddenly matters more than my sobriety, but it didn’t matter at all when I was out on a bender or running out to buy or bingeing until the sun came up. Can you imagine how far along in recovery we’d be if we spent nearly as much time and money and effort working on our recovery as we did working on getting that next fix?

Many of us come into recovery with the idea in our heads that any habit can be broken in 21 days. That’s part of our sickness – the desire to find an easier, softer way. Well there isn’t one. 21 days is barely enough time to get clean, let alone sober.

The 21 day theory was first postulated in the mid-twentieth century by a plastic surgeon based on simple observation. First of all, what he actually said was that “it requires a mimimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.¹” A new study indicates that it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit (or behavior) to be formed.

A) That’s an average. It took some people as little as 18 days and others as long as 254 days. B) We’re not really talking about breaking a habit. We’re talking about a lifetime journey. We’re talking about rewiring your brain, restructuring the way you think, reprogramming the wants and desires and neural pathways that take us back to our drug of choice time and time again. That’s not gonna happen overnight, it’s not gonna happen in 21 day, and it’s not gonna happen in any set amount or length of time.

How long does it take? It takes however long it takes. We are not cured or healed or changed significantly over a specific length of time. It takes time, but it also takes hard work and dedication. It takes a good network of support. It takes a relationship with our creator. It takes an understanding of self-worth – knowing that you matter, you have value, you are loved.

“Well, I don’t know. Will a 28 day stint in rehab get me sober?” No. If you’re lucky, you’re gonna come out of short-term treatment clean, but you won’t be sober. 28 days or 30 days or 60 days isn’t going to cut it. That’s the start; it’s just the beginning. That graduation certificate you received upon release from treatment is bunk. It means nothing. You finished a program. Good job. You worked hard, maybe. But you also had limited choices. You had limited options. You could either finish the program or drop out and continue making bad choices.

But how many among us go right back to using after a stint in treatment? How many people do we know who’ve been to treatment a half dozen times or more because they don’t really want to change? They’re just going to appease someone else. And they know all the right things to do – the right things to say – so they get through with flying colors only to come out and head straight to the liquor store or trap house.

It takes however long it takes. Courts and recovery programs recommend 90 meetings in 90 days because early recovery is a critical time for most people. Those meetings are places where we find support, hear our story from others, give of ourselves, celebrate early milestones, and instill recovery principles. Going to regular meetings also helps to foster the idea that meetings are a priority.

Just remember that you didn’t become an addict overnight. Getting sober takes time and effort and dedication. Most of us slip, stumble, and fall along the way. Do not be discouraged. Just don’t expect immediate results. Instant gratification is a huge part of what got us into this mess in the first place.

Patience. Patience is something a lot of us don’t have in spades, but it is a huge part of being successful in recovery. I understand as well as anyone that once you’ve made the decision to get sober, you want to do it right now. Take your time. Be responsible. Know that sobriety requires sacrifice. Sobriety is hard. The success rate is lousy. Some of us are still going to die.

But stepping into a new life. Being around for friends and family. Learning to love again. Discovering who you really are. That’s all worth it. Overcoming fear of the unknown is difficult, but it’s worth it. With the proper support group and spiritual grounding, it gets a lot easier over time.

How long does it take? I don’t know. But I do know that “if we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.²” I know that we only accomplish any length of sobriety one day at a time. I know that if we spend less time focused on how long it will take and more time focused on doing the work, the work of the program will help us make progress. That’s all we’re shooting for: progress, not perfection.

So give it your best shot, stop worrying about time, and start stepping into the first day of the rest of your life.

– Alex Walker

2. The Promises – AA

Q&A Part 5: Once an Addict…

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part five 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.

Is the common adage “Once an addict, always an addict” an absolute?

Let’s begin with some definitions. It’s not fair to assess the validity of a statement without first breaking it down to ensure that we understand its parts.

To be absolute is to be universally valid. In other words, something absolute would hold true as the ultimate reality. So the question at hand is whether or not this phrase (principle) is true for all people and in all circumstances.

Likewise, to label the turn of phrase an adage means that a certain amount of veracity is already being ascribed to it as a short statement expressing a general truth.

But I think the heart of the matter rests not in how the phrase itself is described but rather how it is defined, and I’m afraid there may be no simple agreement as to the exact meaning of the phrase – intended or otherwise.

To some, the phrase is a pessimistic doormat over which every addict will continuously stumble for the remainder of his/her life. For those who read it this way (some might say misinterpret), there’s an underlying message that the addict – or the addict in your life – will never get better. These readers are convinced the phrase means that the addict will always be addicted – to something.

Along the same lines of thinking is the perception that the addict will always be just as susceptible to relapse as they were upon first beginning the recovery journey.

Another issue some people are going to take with this turn of phrase is that it comes with a label. It makes the addict wear the proverbial mark of Cain. “Hi. My name is Joe, and I’m an addict.” A lot of people get caught up in the negative connotations associated with such language. That’s why some of us in the rooms have morphed our language. We say that we’re ‘recovering addicts’ or ‘grateful recovering addicts’ or (in some ultra-progressive, perhaps detrimental, that’s a conversation for another day but we’re kind of already having it) ‘recovered addicts’. But you will notice that even those who describe themselves as “recovered” still ascribe to the ‘addict’ label as well.

Of course, you will find people who “used to be addicts,” and I can’t definitively say whether or not they’re at greater risk for relapse. That really depends on how much work they’ve done and whether they’re in denial or consciously aware of their past.

That’s where this phrase comes into play: “Once an addict, always an addict.”

To be fair, I don’t think the phrase is intended to discourage people in recovery. I’m biased. I own that.

The other side of this coin is less about whether one’s identity is found or wrapped up in the term addict and more about existing as a gentle reminder of how things used to be. We’re supposed to learn from our past, not live in it, but it’s impossible to learn form something if you ignore it.

Recovery is about developing tools and relationships that help us deal with the things in life which baffle us. When stress and turmoil strike, we should be able to lean on those tools and people and higher powers to overcome life’s challenges instead of falling back on the detrimental coping mechanisms we used to rely on. Through our recovery journey, we should be addressing the psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds which underlie our desire to act out.

What recovery does not and cannot guarantee is that we will always use and rely on the tools and relationships that were forged throughout the process. There’s a reason that we work diligently to “live one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time.” Stepping actively into today pushes us to strive for living in the moment rather than stressing over the past or the future, but it also reminds us that most of us cannot and should not drink again or take another hit or make another bet, etc., etc., etc.

Some people may never have the desire to act out again. Some people may have been delivered from their addictions, and that’s Awesome. It’s just not normative. But even those people who haven’t had or desired a fix in over thirty years know that just one could be more than enough to push them over the edge. Too many times have I seen someone with long-term sobriety or someone who was convinced they were cured go back to acting out. The lucky ones end up in jail; the rest end up in the ground.

One final thing I’d like to say about that phrase and the label that comes with it is that it’s rare for those who are struggling to find a great deal of help or solace from somebody who hasn’t been there. I’m not saying we need to wear the title like a badge of honor or forfeit our anonymity, but the 12th Step calls us to spread the good news to those who still suffer.

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that being a missionary or evangelist requires stepping out of our comfort zones.

I’m an addict. It’s not a label that I wear. It’s simply a part of me. It does not define me. I accept that I am an addict, not that I was an addict. It is this acceptance that set me free. It is this acceptance that allows me to continue to deal with my junk. It is this acceptance that liberated me and provides me the opportunity to help others find their own freedom.

So, is “once an addict, always an addict” absolute? I guess that depends, but at least now you have a few more thoughts to help you think for yourself about it.

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 4: From the Outside Looking In

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part four 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.

When is the appropriate time to seek healing in dealing with the recovery of a loved one? What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery?

Let’s start with the easy question here: When should I seek help? When should I seek healing? When is it appropriate to take care of myself?

The answer is simple, and it’s always the same: right now. There’s no better time than right now to experience the first day of the rest of your life. There’s no better time than right now to take care of yourself. There’s no better time than right now to realize and understand how impossible it is to be present for someone else if we don’t first figure out what our needs are and work diligently to meet them.

Addictions and compulsive behaviors do negatively affect the friends and family members of those whose lives are consumed by them. As a direct result thereof, loved ones often find themselves facing real loss and real pain. It’s not unusual for those close to addicts to experience financial, physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual setbacks as a result of simply being in relationship with someone whose life is consumed by something outside of their control.

That’s why it’s important to seek help and healing even when the addict in your life is unwilling to do so. Twelve step groups, therapists, religious organisations, and other engaging environments are all means of receiving help and working toward a healthier life. It’s never too early to begin the process of claiming your life and escaping the grasp of chaos and rot that come with the entangled nature of an addictive life.

As for the extremely more difficult question, there is no simple answer. What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery? 

To begin with, recognize that recovery is both a journey and a process. It’s going to take time. We’re not talking about an overnight transportation. Think about how much time over how many years were dedicated to living into active addiction. There is no elixir or overnight remedy that’s going to make all of that go away such that everything is all better now. The addict in your life is going to have to invest a lot of time and energy into working on his/her sobriety. Let them do so. Give them time. Give them space (if they need it, or if you need it). And work on yourself.

Remember this: You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.

What you can do is learn to recognize what role you might be playing in their life. This is not a blame game; it’s merely an awareness that how we act and react to others in our life takes its toll. None of us exist in silos.

Here are just a few models for understanding the roles we might play in the life of an addict:

Al-anon talks about a Merry Go Round Named Denial which identifies four major (types of) players in every alcoholic relationship: the alcoholic, the enabler, the victim, and the provoker. “One person drinks too much and gets drunk and others react to her drinking and its consequences. The drinker responds to this reaction and drinks again. This sets up a Merry-Go-Round of blame and denial, a downward-spiral which characterizes alcoholism.”

“The Enabler is a person who feels he must not let the alcoholic suffer the consequences of her drinking when he can so easily prevent this by a simple rescue operation.” This person may have a savior complex and definitely qualifies as being classically codependent. Professional helpers, those driven by anxiety and guilt, and those in it to meet their own needs often find themselves in this role.

“The Victim is the person who is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to a hangover.” These individuals feel that they are helping by covering the ass of their friend time and time again. They are not. Facing real consequences can be a driving force to push people toward recovery.

The Provoker tends to be “the person with whom the alcoholic lives…Hurt and
upset by repeated drinking episodes, [sic] he holds the family together despite all the trouble caused by drinking…Also [sic] called the Adjuster; he is constantly adjusting to the crises and trouble caused by drinking.” This role might best be described as the scapegoat because all of the addict’s bad behaviors find their blame laid here. This person will attempt “to be nurse, doctor, and counselor” but will ultimately fail because doing so does little more than add undo stress to an already stressful situation.

Family systems theory is another model which helps us understand how we relate to the addict in our life. In addition to the addict, this model has five other major player labels within the family: the caretaker (chief enabler), the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot.

The Chief Enabler reduces tension in the family by smoothing things over and believes that he/she is simply being helpful and acting to hold the family together.

The Hero (aka the parental child, superstar or goody two shoes) is the source of family pride and often excels in academic or athletic pursuits, but their successes are driven by perfectionist tendencies rooted in an underlying need to make the family look good.

The Scapegoat tends toward rebellion and anti-social behavior to the point of mimicking the behaviors they identify with in the addict/alcoholic because of a perceived emotional bond with that individual. Often the object of misdirected frustration and rage, this is the person who both holds and voices anger and frustration on behalf of the family at large.

The Lost Child, seeking to avoid conflict, tends to come across as forgettable and shy. A follower not a leader, this person has few (if any) friends outside the family system and has a high likelihood of developing mental health issues.

The Mascot is likable and fun to be around. think of this person as the family clown and the one member of the family nobody has any real complaints about.

For more information on this system and the general qualities of codependency, check out this pdf for the signs, symptoms, and general characteristics of codependency. This document does a good job of helping people identify whether or not they might be codependent as well as speak to what codependency looks like as it progresses.

So, what you can do is recognize what roll you play in the life of your addict or simply in the live’s of the ones you love. Codependency is not limited to those tied to addicts or alcoholics. Codependency can exist all on its own. Let’s remember that the goal of recovery is holistic health for all parties involved, but the only person I can work on is me.

Do what you can, but understand that a lot of what we might be inclined to do is going to do more to keep someone sick than it is to urge them on toward health and healing. Sometimes the best thing that we can do for someone is nothing.

Life hurts.

God heals.

[God] said, “If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord, the one who heals you.”

Exodus 15:26

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 3: Boundaries and Codependency

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part three 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.

What are milestones or steps that should be in place to maintain boundaries and curtail codependency?

There are a couple of things I’d like to put on the table as a preface to the ensuing conversation. First of all, yes, this is intended to be a conversation. Please feel free to chime in at any time. For the most part, each of these posts consist of the thoughts and feelings of one individual and are not necessarily the beliefs and opinions of our ministry at large. We are not some behemoth whose words should be accepted as gospel truth; rather, we are fallible people with limited knowledge and information.

Second, if you or someone you love does currently or has ever struggled with an addiction issue, he or she is a bona fide codependent. No questions asked. Every alcoholic or addict of any kind also struggles with codependency. Not only that, but we pretty much lack healthy boundaries across the board. So, while this post may be primarily directed to friends and family members of those who struggle with addiction and compulsive behaviors, it is also applicable to all the addicts out there – active or otherwise.

Third, please realize that entire books have been dedicated to these topics. Tomes have been written just about codependency and just about boundaries, let alone the number of materials dedicated to both. This is not going to be a novel, a novella, or even a self-help book. Please allow me some grace and latitude as I paint with broad brush strokes. Also, do yourself a favor by picking up some of those texts for further reading.*

First things first:
Self-Care ≠ Selfish
Self-Care = Selfless

Everything else is going to stem from understanding that concept. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking care of yourself. There is nothing wrong with occasionally neglecting the needs of others or putting off their wants/desires to do what you need to do. If we don’t figure out how to take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others. No matter how well you’ve tended to the needs, wants and desires of others in the past, even your stellar service could’ve been improved upon had you been working from a full tank of gas rather than running on empty all the time.

People call my office all the time seeking help for a friend or family member. One of the first things out of my mouth is always an inquiry regarding what that individual is doing for him/herself. Are you part of a group? Are you going to meetings? Do you have a system of support? Even when the person in your life who is struggling can’t seem to get it through their thick skull that they need help, you know they need help. But are you aware that you also need help?

There are things you could be doing differently. There are people out there who’ve been where you are. People who are dying to share their experiences with you and have you share your story with them. Perhaps this looks like an Al-Anon meeting or a similar meeting attached to a different ‘anonymous’ group. It might be CoDa, Co-Dependents Anonymous, if you have one in your local area. Churches with recovery programs offer groups for codependency or for family members. Many of us have chosen to enter relationships in adulthood which mirror relationships we witnessed as children, so a number of us might benefit from attending ACoA meetings for adult children of alcoholics. There are therapy groups and individual counseling sessions and non-12-step based meetings and religious meetings and meditative retreats and…Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for others.

So what does that look like on a practical level?

As is heard in the rooms on a regular basis, we have to keep our side of the street clean. At its most basic level, this simply means that we responsible and accountable for our own actions – and only our own actions. What that also, inherently, means is that we cannot and should not waste our time sweeping the other side of the street because we are not, cannot, and should not be responsible or accountable for the actions of others. That may seem like (and actually be) a vast oversimplification of things, but we must learn that we aren’t responsible for others, we’re responsible for ourselves. And as such, we can no longer blame others (or caring for, enabling, mending, fixing, cleaning up after others) for the way our lives are lived.

There’s a reason why they instruct us on an airplane to put our own oxygen mask on first in case of an emergency. But, hell, I bet most of us don’t even like that idea.

If you’re a doter – that is to say, if you are historically quite good at taking care of others – flip the script. No, I’m not saying that you should suddenly expect the person you’ve been caring for to suddenly drop everything to meet your every whim; rather, take a look in the mirror. Reflect on all of the things you’ve done for your daughter, your husband, your mother, your best friend. Think about all the ways you’ve lovingly nurtured the other, and do those things for yourself. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable, but you deserve it. And I think you’ll find that you appreciate it, as well.

In learning to take care of yourself, you are more or less conquering a new concept or revitalizing one long dead. Remember that human beings are whole people, so it’s important to express the significance of holistic health. We need to be of firm body, mind, and soul, so we ought to address our physical health, mental and emotional health, and spiritual well-being.

Physical Health
This is going to sound extremely basic, but for those of us who’ve neglected our own needs on behalf of others, we need basic. These are the questions to ask yourself:
Are you sleeping? Frequently? Well? What other ways am I experiencing rest?
Do you exercise? There is no firm definition on what this means. Are you moving? Regularly?
Are you eating? How often? What? No, coffee is not a food group. Try to ensure well-balanced, nutritious diet. That doesn’t mean don’t splurge; it really means don’t neglect your needs for the needs of others.
When’s the last time you saw a doctor? Had a physical?

Mental & Emotional Health
Recovery is bound to open the door to a plethora of emotions, both positive and negative. We must remember that feelings (emotions) are just feelings, they are not facts. They are a reaction to reality, not reality itself.
What outlets do you have, creative and otherwise? Do you like to read or write?
When’s the last time you learned something new just for fun?
How do I feel? Do I know how I feel? What do I do with that?
Am I most comfortable working through that alone, with a sponsor, or with a professional?

Spiritual Health
Conscious contact with God is not some lofty idea of intellectualism only to be grasped and explored in some far away ivory tower of higher learning. Conscious contact with God simply means aware communication – something we should attempt to enter into daily.
Are you familiar with spiritual disciplines? Which do you practice? Which have you tried? Meditation? Prayer? Fasting? Study? Simplicity? Solitude? Submission? Service? Confession? Worship? Guidance? Celebration?
I like taking long walks in the woods. Some people like writing searching letters to their innermost self or to them from a different stage/phase of life. Others use daily devotions or reflections from others with similar struggles. Some paint or express their relationship with a higher power through other artistic endeavors. What begins as a practice which takes up a portion of our day may soon overtake our day and work its way into everything we do.

With regard to boundaries, we must begin by simply setting priorities and limits. While I feel this has already been somewhat addressed in the holistic health piece, it never hurts to be reminded that we should stop what we’re ding and address the issue if we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H.A.L.T.). Any one of those four things can throw everything out of whack if we don’t tend to it when we should.

Setting limits for ourselves means that we must decide what we will or will not do or accept.
How late is too late to pick up the phone? When am I going to bed? When and why might I consider breaking or bending that rule?
What am I willing to do for this person? How far will I go? What will I allow them to do in my house? Around my children?
These are personal limits. They’ll be different for everyone because different people are willing to tolerate different things, but setting these limits gives us a firm framework to operate out of. That way, when a situation does arise in which we might not be thinking clearly, we’ve already established sensible parameters.

Unlike our feelings, however, these limits are facts. They are not a code of behavior by which we are to govern the actions of others. They are not threats. They are not a means of manipulating others into conforming to our wants and desires. They are facts. A limit says (to me, in my head), “I will take the children and leave for good if I catch you smoking crack in my house again.” A limit does not say, “I’d better not catch you smoking crack here” or “Promise me you won’t smack crack again.” The point is, the limit is for me, not for you. So don’t voice your limits unless you’re ready to follow through with them, and check your motives before sharing your limits with others. Limits are not meant to force others to change, rather they are a means of setting boundaries for ourselves.

And so long as we’re working on self, it’s time to reestablish (or perhaps simply establish) and build up our self-esteem. When you’ve lost yourself somewhere in the fray, chances are good that you, like I, have struggled with issues of low self-esteem. While many of us are driven there by outside sources, some of as have diligently driven our own self-esteem into the ground. So how do we go from feelings of inadequacy, self-hatred and unlovability to a place of at least marginal self-esteem? Recovery has the perfect, cliched answer for that. Fake it ’til you make it.

Do things to take care of yourself. Make the decision or choose the thing or take the action which has the best odds of building up your self-esteem. Just show up in places and scenarios that are supposed to make you feel better about yourself – that are supposed to be pampering and induce feelings of worthiness. Go to the dentist. Get your haircut. Have a bubble path or a mani/pedi or a massage/spa day. Go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see all by yourself at the matinee. It’s gonna feel downright awkward because your mind is going to be nagging you about where you should be or what you should be doing or who should be captivating your mental faculties, but that time is for you. And as those things become more comfortable, you’ll become more comfortable with who you are.

But wait, there’s more. There are people who accept and love you for who you are. Haven’t found them? Well get out there and meet them. As I mentioned previously, there are entire groups of people who already meet together who are just like you. They continue to meet together on a regular basis because sharing their experience with others give them hope. It gives them something to live for. It validates them as individuals. Find people to lean on who love you, and you’ll learn what it means to love yourself.

This is such a brief and incomplete survey of all things codependent. The basic outline and many of the main ideas of this post were borrowed from the “Taking Care of Ourselves” chapter in How Al-Anon Works. It is my prayer that this missive be the truth one person needs today.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24

*How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics by Al-Anon Family Groups
Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency both by Melody Beattie
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
Conquering Codependency workbook by Springle (to be completed with a sponsor or group)

Q&A Part 2: 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

Q&A Part 1: 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