Friday, March 31, 2006

Close cousins

I'm overweight by about seventy pounds. This might lead you to guess that one of the ways my addictive behaviors play out is compulsive overeating. And you would be right. But, as you might be learning, I have to dig under the obvious behavior to ask myself what the addict has nurtured in order to allow the behavior to flourish. In the process of recovering life I've discovered a close cousin to accountability is equally weak when addiction is in full bloom. Discipline.

Most genuine experts in the weight loss world will tell you there is a very simple formula for losing weight. It goes something like this: Diet + Exercise = Weight Loss. When you dig a little deeper what they say is that diet doesn't mean a harsh denial of food, that's not healthy, or intense hours in the gym. With diet it means counting calories and actually knowing what you're putting in your body. With exercise it could mean adding as little as a thirty minute walk to your daily routine (ah, there's a word the addict hates). There are ways to do this that include keeping a food journal and keeping an exercise journal. As you may have guessed, keeping a journal is a form of accounting and you can check out my previous post on that.

One of the most helpful tools in my recovery has been establishing some routines and sticking to them with disciplined consistency. Discipline is hard for most people and especially hard for addicts. We love the commercials touting a pill that will "melt away the fat" or a diet that allows you to eat whatever you want. It's the siren song telling us that we don't really have to change our undisciplined behavior and we can still avoid the consequences of our recklessness. We don't even have to buy any of those products. Just knowing there is a quick fix (which doesn't really exist) is enough to keep the addict happy. Addicts like quick fixes, in part because they don't require discipline. I'll do a full post on my discoveries about immediate gratification and the addictive lifestyle sometime soon.

This blog is part of the discipline of my recovery. It's another discipline I've added to my routine. Here are some of the ways I'm addressing the lack of discipline piece of my recovery. I rise at 5 a.m. and spend an hour posting to my two blogs. Then it's time to stretch and go for a half-hour run/walk followed by some more stretching. After a shower I make my bed, fix a simple breakfast, spend some time reading the Bible and writing in my prayer journal and then I head to work. Another important piece of the puzzle is meetings. I attend meetings related to my addictive struggles at least three times a week. This is a combination of discipline and accountability.

Accountability is engaging other people in my recovery. Discipline is engaging myself in my recovery. These two pieces independently have some great benefit but together they are life-changing. Discipline is being true to my real self and accountability is being true to others. This all leads to recovering life.

If one of your issues is compulsive eating leading to weight problems I highly recommend the work of Tom Venuto. He's honest and won't sell you any quick fixes or shortcuts. You might also look for a local Overeaters Anonymous meeting. In the end, these are just tools for you to use as you pursue your own disciplines.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No account

One of the biggest enemies of addiction, I've found, is accountability. When I was deep in my addiction I hated to account for anything. Interestingly, this didn't seem to affect my job. It seems my chosen profession was a magnet for addicts and addictive personalities. You might think I worked in the entertainment industry there were so many unhealthy people. But I actually spent most of my adult life in the Christian church. There are so many addicts in the church. It's really the perfect incubator for addiction. In my experience there is very little real accountability. There is a veneer of accountability, but those who hold you accountable are volunteers and they aren't around on a daily basis. That means you get to make your own schedule, determine your own priorities and do your own thing. If you're talented at getting a lot done in a little time, like I was, it can appear like you're doing an excellent job (an maybe you are), but you're doing it on your own terms. Those few times when someone with authority over me asked for greater accountability I became indignant. I claimed they didn't understand the intricacies of the job. There was no way to truly account for all the things I was doing.

Now, in my case, part of my addictive need was to please and impress people so I could feel good about myself. This lack of accountability allowed me to get involved in many projects not related to my work. I joined task forces, committees, teams and anything I could to demonstrate how talented and capable I was. In my profession I was highly respected and often people commented about how many things I could do so well. This fed my addict and kept me from realizing how sick I really was. It also nearly destroyed my marriage.

At home my lack of accountability didn't promote successful relationships. It hurts to remember how many times I bristled, and even lashed out, when my wife would ask a simple question like "when will you be home?" Internally my addict would sense this was a request to be accountable and would fight that. Not wanting to be accountable went so deep. I destroyed our family's financial stability convincing myself that I needed more than I could afford and using credit to get there. I could run numbers in my head well enough, or so my addiction adled brain thought, that there was no need to keep anything on paper. I would get credit cards and remortgage the house and play the "rob Peter to pay Paul" games it took to keep up appearances. My wife, on the other hand, thrives on accountability and order. She's not an addict. Confronted with my strong-willed confidence, seeming success in the outside world and lacking the ability to outlast me in debates she suffered incredibly in the wake of my addictive behavior. Part of my recovery process is beginning to realize just how deeply I've hurt the ones I love. All these years I thought we struggled over finances, but now I'm coming to realize that my addiction was destroying me and any chance for relational happiness.

I wonder if many of the marriages out there that are collapsing because of financial pressure aren't really succumbing to an addicts inability to be accountable. If an addict never has to tell you where they've been, what they're doing or how they're spending money the addiction has a wide open playground. My recovery has included getting a job where there are weekly, quarterly and annual goals that are reviewed every week with my supervisor. We now have a strict budget that, although I push against it sometimes, is incredibly freeing (who knew). Every day I have disciplines and routines. All of this creates a hostile environment for addiction. For those who really want to recover, I recommend you aggressively seek accountability in every area of your life.

Monday, March 27, 2006

In control

Step one in any recovery program is to "admit that I am powerless over my addiction and that my life has become unmanageable." Seems simple enough. I've hit bottom and am obviously out of control. Anyone can see I lack the power to manage my own life. Simple enough...if you're not addicted! But addicts don't see clearly. A friend once told me that the problem with addicts is that we think we know how to think! I'm finding that a huge part of addiction is the aching need to be in control. My need to control every situation was maddening. To me and, I would imagine, to everyone around me. I say "imagine" because an addict is never truly aware of how others perceive them. I was aware of how I percieved others perception of me. That was enough because I could then proceed to behave according to my perception of their perception of me which created the illusion of being in control. Addiction is like David Copperfield, fabulous at creating illusion. The greatest illusion addiction created for me was that of being in control.

In the best ways it made me a "take charge" kind of guy. In business "take charge" people are often seen as the ones who get things done. They can cut through the clutter, put a project on track or launch a whole new venture. But, in my case, my need to take charge of every situation (and I do mean every one) came out of my crippling insecurities. The funny thing is, I really thought I was taking charge for the good of everyone else. Hence, the illusion. It was only when I entered recovery that my true needs and intentions began to be revealed. Not that people didn't appreciate me taking charge. Some did and there were some great projects that got launched along the way and some great things got done. What I'm finding out as I recover my life is that it's not always about results, it's about motivation. Good results driven by fear, insecurity, doubt and addiction might help others but it would eventually destroy me.

In the worst of ways my need to control made me angry, judgmental and bitter. I spent years disappointed in my income level. I always felt I deserved more than I was getting and complained that I wasn't really in control of my salary. On the road I was your classic road rage driver. I would cut people off and slow down if I thought they were going too fast because, you see, I was in control of the road! I treated others with disregard because my approach was always the best and what I wanted was always the right thing.

One of the painful parts of recovering life is having your eyes opened to how you've really been for so long. I'm starting to see through different eyes and I don't like what I'm seeing. There are peoople I've hurt along the way and the deeper into recovery I get the more I realize the extent of the pain I've caused. That's no easy thing to deal with. But if I want to live a recovered life, I'll have to deal with it. The addict (yes, get used to me talking about my addiction as a whole separate person) wants to retreat from this. The addict fed off the need to control and by facing the reality that I'm really not in control I'm starving the addict.

There is one area where I truly do have control. It is completely my choice how to react to what life throws at me. I can attend recovery meetings or not. I can get angry at the guy who just sped past me or not. I can choose to accept that someone else is in control or not. There are healthy choices and there are unhealthy ones and both types are mine to make. My life quickly becomes unmanageable when I start trying to control anything more than that.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I know what you're thinking

Okay, upon re-reading my last post I realize that some may think I'm just one more whining baby who can't take responsibility for his own failures so I blame society. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't blame society for my problems. And neither should you! I'm the only one who can confront my addictions and reach out for whatever help there is out there. I just wanted to make it clear the battlefield upon which this war is being fought and encourage you to fight the good fight. No one will make it easy for you and you should expect that, plan for it, if you want to claim a recovered life.

Throw me a brick!

Melanie has a lens that claims Alcoholics Anonymous has only a 5% retention rate. I don't doubt her research and she's offering an alternative to the traditional A.A. style 12 step recovery. But the five percent rate doesn't surprise me. I was pretty active in network marketing for a couple of years and quite successful by MLM standards (I know it seems like I just changed gears here, but stick with me). In that industry there's about a 5% retention rate and among the few who do hang in there are some who are fabulously wealthy. I once held one such successful person's bonus check for one month and stared at an amount in excess of $103,000. What does this have to do with addiction and recovery? It illustrates that succeeding at anything that requires really hard work, discipline, tenacity and patience is beyond the reach of many people in western culture. We've grown out of hearty pioneer, trailblazing stock into a nation of whining, litigious, self-serving babies who care first and foremost for self and consider others only if it suits us. That's a harsh assessment and I'm sure plenty of you will argue that we're a charitable, kind, industrious folk that lead the world in all the really important categories. That's a nice sentiment, but I fear we are watching that society fade into the sunset. Have you ever wondered what might happen to our charitable spirit if tomorrow all tax deductions were eliminated? How many hospitals would get built if no one could have their name (or that of their sainted wife, husband, mother, etc.) emblazoned across it?

Why do only 5% of addicts successfully navigate sobriety? Maybe it's because there are a whole lot of people standing on the ship of our culture chucking bricks at those of us who are drowning in the sea of self-doubt, fear, and addiction. Mary Pipher's amazing book, Reviving Ophelia uncovers the impact of our culture just on adolescent girls. Multiply that by nearly every people group and I'm amazed that even five percent find recovery. Alcohol, sex, drugs, litigation and personal irresponsibility are relentlessly sold to us. Our addictive natures absorb all this and give us permission to stay locked in the prison created to protect us from real life. At the same time, real life is what we are dying to experience.

I thank God for recovery and the strength to stay in it. I give him all the credit because, as the first step tells me, I am powerless over my addictions and my life had become unmanageable when I was the one in charge.

Here We Go

So, here's the story. I've had a fabulously successful career in my chosen field. I've been driven and resourceful. I'm well respected and trusted by many people. At the same time I've lived a secret life of fear and separation. Fear that the real me might some day be "found out" and everyone would shun me. I have this image of being left alone on an island if ever people really knew who I was on the inside. Fear and the trauma of childhood can play ridiculous tricks and completely screw up your adult life. Consequently, I've built incredible self-protection mechanisms that have made it almost impossible for me to genuinely care about anyone or anything. My skill at looking like I care is practically unmatched. To fill the void between the life everyone thought I was living and the life that was trapped inside my wounded heart some very powerful addictions grew. These addictions were probably useful at some point. They kept me safe by making everything about me. In ancient times addiction was called sin. We're too sophisticated nowadays to use such an archaic term as that. The truth is, one definition of sin comes from the Latin incurvatus in se, or turned in on self. Addiction is a turning in on self. It started out as the guard at the gate of my heart that became the monster that nearly consumed and destroyed my life.

Two years ago I began the journey of recovery. Along the way I've discovered so many things about myself and about the insidious nature of addiction. One thing I've learned is that addiction thrives in the dark. Kept secret it will grow like a malignant tumor until it has consumed all the healthy flesh of your life and leaves you a broken, empty shell, lost and alone. It's not a pretty picture, but anyone who's struggled with addiction knows what I'm talking about. By the way, I'm pretty sure that everyone has some form of addiction they fight (remember that archaic word for addiction). So, where can one go to shed the most light on addiction so that it screams, shrivels, fades and dies? Meetings are great. They gave me the courage to say out loud the things I thought would get me banished to that island I mentioned earlier. But, once I'd said those things in front of a few people and they didn't run screaming from the building something dawned on me. Everyone has something...or lots of things...that they keep in the dark with that same conviction I had. Namely, if anyone finds this out, I will be shunned. Well, I figured, if sharing the truth about me in a small room with a few people with similar experiences has brought as much healing as it has, what might happen if I share my story with several billion? I could write a book, but that wouldn't reach as big an audience as something like, say, the internet might reach. I've also created a lens on Squidoo that has more help.

Before you freak out, let me make a promise about this blog. This is not going to be some graphic public confessional. That's not a healthy way to go about recovery and it's not helpful for me or anyone who might read it. It is my deepest desire to be helpful because I'm convinced there are millions of people out there suffering with a monster keeping the real them locked up tighter than a suspected terrorist in Gitmo. I'm hoping that, as I pursue my own recovery and discovery I can share insights here as an encouragement to others. I won't be sharing how my addiction manifested itself. If I did it would give people an excuse not to apply the insights I share to their own struggle. You see, addiction is very adept at finding ways to convince you it doesn't live in you all the while running and ruining more of your life than you can imagine.

That's it, for now. Stay with me as I work on recovering life and, when you're ready, join me. Here we go!