Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Have you ever done something in your recovery that you thought was necessary to be true to yourself and the recovery process and had it go terribly wrong? It can happen. Recovery, at times, is an incredibly self-focused exercise. We're learning about our hurts, habits and hang-ups. We're having character defects exposed and, hopefully, dealing with them. Unfortunately recovery isn't done in a monastery set apart from the rest of the world. Sometimes we do things in recovery that may be very good for us, but have unintended consequences in the lives of those around us.

Think of it this way. There's a drive-by shooting aimed at taking out a notorious and dangerous gangster. In the process an innocent ten year old child is struck and killed. It was never the intention of the shooter to kill a child. They might've even considered that shooting in a neighborhood meant there would be kids around. But they went ahead with it anyway. They accomplished a personal goal but inflicted damage that can't be undone. Bullets can't be unfired and when someone is killed you can't bring them back to life.

That's a pretty stark example, but I use it for a reason. In your recovery there will come times when you'll feel a need to take action on one thing or another. What you're considering may have the relational equivalent of firing a gun into a crowd. You might hit your intended target but you take out an innocent bystander or two. This concept is reflected in the ninth make amends whenever possible except when to do so would hurt the person to whom you're making amends or others (innocent bystanders). It can be applied more broadly to any action you think you need to take to advance...or be true to...your recovery.

If you're faced with a decision that you can clearly see might have a high probability of unintended consequences or collateral damage be extremely careful. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying take it under advisement first. Seek wise counsel from a sponsor, accountability partners, pastors, counselors and others. Sit with it for awhile. Unless you're in immediate danger there's nothing wrong with taking a little time to sit with a decision like that to make absolutely certain what you plan to do is the only choice you have. Once you've done that and if you still feel like you have to move forward just make sure you're ready for the collateral damage. You can't unfire a gun. You can't undo a hurt. You can't bring the dead back to life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deep and Wide

Seems that the current character defect getting non-stop attention in my life is selfishness. I guess that's because I'm currently working through something that is dragging the depth and width of my selfishness out into the light. It's a big ugly monster that, frankly, I wish I didn't have to look at...or deal with.

But if we're honest in our recovery, then we don't get to be in charge of what character defects we deal with or when we deal with them. Moving through recovery as a way of life means that we will have to examine our character defects and deal with them. And it's not fun. It's hard work that requires a team of people gathered around. Mostly so you don't turn tail and run. Addiction has taught us that there is no character defect, large or small, that can't be ignored. Recovery teaches us that we dare not ignore any character defect.

If you truly desire recovery and the better life that comes with it, then prepare yourself to deal with all your character defects. Whether one at a time or in bunches you will have to expose them to the light of truth. Truth, honesty, discipline and accountability are the tools of recovery. Use all of them to dig out the deep, wide, malignant roots of addiction that are suffocating your soul.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Life Is Hard

I was going to title this post 'Life Makes Recovery Hard' but the truth is life is hard. It's the hard parts of life that triggered my defense mechanisms that originally protected me. Then became habits. Then became addictions.

Yes, life is hard. People are mean. Disappointments happen. Families suck. Friends betray. Loved ones die. These are all true and real things. Things that addiction invites us to avoid. But when I take addiction up on the offer to avoid reality what happens is that reality only gets worse. My relationships falter and collapse. I lose my job. My health fails. As reality gets worse addiction invites me to continue avoiding it more and more aggressively. In recovery we call that insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

In recovery I come to admit my insanity. I expose addiction for what it is, a one trick pony. In recovery when the reality of life hits I go to meetings, talk to my sponsor, meet with accountability people, reach out to mentors and coaches, read the Bible and other recovery books, pray, work the 12 steps. Addiction offers the same solution over and over and over. Drink and feel better. Drug and feel better. Have sex and feel better. Shop and feel better. Pick one and do it until you feel better...or, more honestly, until you feel nothing.

Addiction is like that old saying, 'to the man with only a hammer everything looks like a nail.'

If you've grown tired of addiction being the only tool you have to deal with a hard life, might I suggest you get rid of it and take up the whole shed full of tools that can be found in recovery. Find a group specific to your particular addictive behavior or a general group. I highly recommend Celebrate Recovery which has groups all over the world. When you're ready to deal with the reality that life is hard then, maybe, you're ready for recovery. There's no time like right now to get started.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Defining a Significant Life

Lately God's been taking me through a rigorous process related to a big opportunity I'm considering. It's been exhausting, frustrating and one of the most intense periods of recovery I've had in a couple of years. My recent posts about selfishness might be a tip off to the character defect God's been working on. In case that wasn't obvious enough...God's been working on my selfishness.

He's also been revealing some fear in this, too. Just a couple of days ago I ran smack dab into the middle of a lie I was believing. The lie is one many people, particularly guys, struggle with. It's that I'm responsible for living a life of significance. By that I mean I need to do something with my life that makes a difference.

Now, that's not an awful thing. In fact it's an admirable trait in someone if they strive to make a difference in this world. However, if you're driven by a need to find your value in living a significant life, that's a problem. There are always meaningful things you can do with your life. Be a good father (or mother), volunteer for worthy causes, start a business or a movement or a charity that changes people's lives. But doing those things in order to feel good about yourself or establish some sense of being significant is a goal you'll never achieve.

If you're like me, you'll always be able to find someone who is doing something bigger, better, or what you might define as more significant than you're doing. So you'll be driven to do even more. You'll keep trying to quiet the demons in your head telling you you're not good enough by doing more and more. Eventually you'll run out of time, energy, opportunities and still be stuck with yourself.

Significance is found in a relationship. Specifically a relationship with God who has a plan for your life. Seek his will and, whatever you do, it will be significant. Know deep in your soul that God thinks enough of you that he's sent his son to die on the cross so you can be in an eternal relationship with him. As you work your program and discover this truth you can let go of your addiction driven need to be significant according to the world's standards or to impress your father or get back at those who've hurt you.

Pursue your recovery with all the energy and fervor you can. There's nothing more significant than living a healthy, sober life.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Patience - The Bane of Addictive Living

Have you ever been in a situation that required an immense amount of patience? If you're still in active addiction, probably not. Addicts are not good at waiting. As I've written before, addiction is an exquisite form of selfishness. Selfish people aren't good at waiting for anything. I suspect addicts invented the microwave and the credit card. We don't want to wait to eat, to get paid, to be entertained to do anything!

In recovery there are ample opportunities to practice patience. Working the 12 steps is not a sprint but a marathon. There are some steps you'll sit with for a long time before you're ready to move on. And you are not in charge of the pace. That's a completely novel thought for an addict. The truth that we cannot accelerate our recovery by our own efforts. It will find it's own pace. And you won't like that. I know there are times when I don't.

Patience is a skill that comes in handy for much more than just recovery. If you take recovery seriously you will develop patience. Then you'll find all sorts of opportunities to exercise that patience. It might be waiting on God to lift a burden or working through a challenging situation that simply takes time. In addiction we avoid hard things through self-medication or quit when things get tough. In recovery we discover those are no longer options if we want to be healthy and sober. So, relax and be patient as God teaches you patience!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Little Latin

As tough as it is to admit to the larger world that I'm in recovery it's sometimes harder to admit how much of a geek I am! But, here high school I took two years of Latin. Yes, I know, it's a dead language and it makes no sense to study it unless you're planning to be a priest. But the truth is Latin is the base for all the romance languages. Knowing Latin has helped me better understand English.

One of my favorite phrases in Latin is incurvatus in se. It means 'turned in on self' and is the most exquisitely simple definition of both sin and addiction. The first temptation ever given to man was Satan's lie to Eve, 'You can be like God.' He turned the whole focus of human existence inward with that simple lie. You are the center of all things. You can decide right from wrong. You can determine what is true. You, you, you.

Living in sinfulness is living in selfishness is living in addiction. At it's core addiction is selfish. How often have you said, or at least thought, 'You can't tell me what to do?' How many times in your addiction have you thought, 'It's my life and I can do what I want?'

Both of those statements...and hundreds more that are versions of those...are a reflection of selfishness. A reflection of sin. You are not your own. God has created you for a purpose. For his purpose. Until you can admit that you'll be stuck in sin, in selfishness, in addiction. We have to admit that living in the lie that we are in control has gotten us into a whole stinky pile of trouble. We must be ready to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understand God. Short of that there is no remedy. You can't turn out of self a little. You're either turned in on self or you're not. The strange thing is that to stop living incurvatus in se is a choice only you can make. Figure that one out.

Monday, December 06, 2010

It Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

One of my all time favorite movies is The Princess Bride. My favorite character in that movie is Inigo Montoya, played brilliantly by Mandy Patinkin. Wallace Shawn plays an insufferable, ego maniac in charge of a band of villians of which Inigo is part. Shawn's character, Vizzini, keeps decrying things as 'inconceivable'. At one point Inigo turns to Vizzini and says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

That's a long intro to a truth about recovery. I think most people go into recovery for a very specific issue. I know I did. They have identified drinking or drugging or overeating as the 'thing' they need to work on. On a variation of Inigo's comment when it comes to recovery it is not about what you think it is about. Our behavior is not our addiction. Our behavior is the expression of our addiction and addiction can be expressed in a myriad of ways.

There has been much written and said about the failure rate in 12 step recovery programs and it's true. A lot of people don't make it in recovery and return to addictive behaviors that eventually kill them. If not physically then at least emotionally, spiritually and relationally. I think some of the failure rate has to do with the fact that addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. So it tricks us into thinking that our behavior is the problem and recovery is a tool to stop the behavior. Imagine our surprise when we get into recovery and find that, sometimes, it gets even harder to stop the behavior we went to recovery to deal with.

That's because we go in focusing on the behavior. Everyone knows that when we focus on something we usually get more of it. Diets don't work because we focus on food and the more we focus on food the harder it is to put food in it's proper perspective. If we focus on what psychologists call the 'presenting concern' or the thing that brought us into recovery we risk missing the underlying issues. The problem with underlying issues is that they are often so deeply buried or so terribly traumatic that dealing with them is nearly impossible. That's why we drink, drug, eat and fantasize. Anything to escape confronting the reality of what has happened to us or what we've done to others.

Many people lack the capacity for deep insight. By that I mean they just can't look into themselves and see all their character defects that contribute to the difficulties they experience in life. Difficulties that they have chosen to numb with the behaviors that are now destroying them. To succeed in recovery you have to deal with yourself. Your deepest hurts, your selfishness, your defective defense mechanisms, and all those tools you've acquired, nurtured, polished and cherished which are really isolating and suffocating you. Tools that may have once protected you have become a prison from which your heart and true self cannot escape unless you're willing, through the 12 steps and recovery, to face head-on. Ready to turn your life and your will over to your higher power. To admit that you are powerless over the deep wounds that have manifested in your self-destructive behaviors.

So, if you're an alcoholic...that's not your real problem. A drug addict...not really the core issue. A sex addict...only a surface behavior covering much deeper issues. Compulsive is NOT your problem. Until you stop looking for quick fixes for surface issues and get real with what's going on in the depths of your soul...where you've never allowed anyone to go, not even yourself, then you'll never fully realize all the benefits recovery can bring. It's not easy, but it's worth it.