Results are not Guaranteed

When it comes to recovery, no result is guaranteed.  We can only suggest a path with the understanding that this path has the capacity to create opportunities.  It does not (and cannot) guarantee a certain solution.

We talk about dedicating ourselves to process because we cannot dedicate ourselves to results.  Results are out of our control, though some results may not be possible without a dedicated process.  In other words, a dedicated process may create the possibility of a specific, desired result without guaranteeing it.  

To be far simpler, we might say that there are good strategies and bad strategies.  Good strategies create space for possibilities.  Bad ones, well, make things worse.

Because of this, we must carry with us a sense of acceptance as we journey.  An ideal approach to our process may not create the ideal end.  If we dedicate ourselves to the process, though, hope, healing, and joy become possibilities when they otherwise would not be.   

Is it worth it?

Should we only pursue a certain course of action in life if we feel that our desired end is likely (or probable)?  

It takes profound courage to dedicate yourself to a totally unpredictable pursuit.  In recovery, the only real promise we offer is, "This will be good for you."  But, again, we run into a problem.  In what sense will it be good?  

If you loved someone dealing with a substance use disorder, as is the case with our family from earlier in the month, you may regain a certain quality of life.  You may gain a bit of peace as you learn to establish boundaries that protect you and your home.  You may be comforted by the knowledge that you're doing the best you can.  You may see modest improvements in how you interact with others or how they interact with you.  

Yet, you may not see your loved one enter long-term recovery.  

An Ideal Process Part II

The other piece of the ideal process is the act of working towards an end with the knowledge that the end we imagine may never come to be.  

For our frustrated families whose loved ones have yet to enter recovery, the only end in mind is a sober loved one, living a happy and productive life, making lots of money, having a family, etc. etc.  Obviously I’m generalizing our hopes a little bit here.  What I mean is, dedicating ourselves to a process of recovery living seems worth it if we’re promised the end we want.  

Our achievement-oriented mindsets convince us that a certain series of tasks must be “worth it,” they must be “effective,” or “productive” in order to undertake them.  What happens if we dedicate ourselves to recovery-living and we do not get the desired outcome?  It doesn't seem worth the effort.  

I can't help but ask:  Should we only pursue these efforts if we feel that our desired end is likely (or probable)?  

I’ll unpack this further tomorrow.

An Ideal Process Part I

One piece of an ideal process is diligence, or what I called yesterday, wholeheartedness.  It means we are dedicated and attentive to our process.  We take the process seriously because, as Colossians reminded us, faithful people take all aspects of life seriously.  We invest all the effort or energy we have on hand (for that particular area of our lives) in the process itself.  At a given moment in time, we only posses a finite amount of time, energy, and resources to throw at a particular process, but we invest what we have.  We give to the process what we have to give and we do it consciously.  That is diligence.

Footnote:  If you're wondering at this point, "What am I in process of doing?" Then that's a fair question.  Hang with me on that.  The short answer is:  everything.  Until we unpack further, here's a few examples:  If you work, you are in the process of becoming an employee (even if you are already working and being paid).  If you have children, you are in the process of becoming a parent (even if you are already parenting).  If you are in recovery, you are in the process of recovery (even if you are already sober).  We are all always in process of becoming different versions of ourselves in each of our roles. 

What is "Process"?

Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people.  Colossians 3:23, CEB

A dictionary would suggest process is the act of working towards a particular end.  

Let's add some of our own NSC flare.  We do not want to speak of process only in terms of what it is, but how we approach it as faithful people in recovery.  My assumption here is that there is something profoundly spiritual about wholeheartedly committing ourselves to whatever we do- even if the task at hand seems particularly banal and insignificant.  This is the essence of, “…[practicing] these principles in all of our affairs."  And so, feeling bold, I'll suggest that faith calls us to approach process, in life, in a specific way.  I believe (tentatively) that there is an "ideal" approach to process (not that we're here to judge the ways in which we fall short of this ideal- because we're not).  

Over the next couple of days I'll explore a couple of key factors that go into an "ideal" process.   

The Means are the Ends

To say we’re a goal-oriented society is a massive understatement.  Goals are good, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with setting and working towards goals.  However, it is possible to become too goal-oriented.  Not only are we a goal-oriented society but we are an achievement-oriented society.  In fact, we’re more or less taught that goals are only goals if they have something to do with productivity and achievement.  They must be measurable or they are not goals.  Further, success and the appearance of success represent the highest form of status.  The ends justify the means, so the saying goes.  This is just another way of saying that the means don’t matter.  We’ve taken this to the extreme.  

It comes as no surprise then that families want to know, first and foremost, how do I get my loved one sober?  It’s an honest question, I get it, but it isn’t necessarily realistic.  In my role as a sort of “guide,” I can’t answer that question.  I can only answer the question, “Where do we begin?”  

Once we (as a society) mix our results-obsession with our increasingly short attention spans and decreasing patience for delayed gratification we end up with a large group of people who are overly attentive to the “ends” of things and rather neglectful about the means through which we arrive at them.  In other words, we pay attention to results and overlook the profound spiritual depth of process.

What do I mean when I say "process"?  

Check back tomorrow.

Learning to prepare for uncertainty

It seems to me that, in this day and age, in our culture, people only become willing to address problems when a particular problem builds to the level of “crisis.”  I do not know why this is the case, other than the obvious explanation of convenience.  It’s simply inconvenient to be proactive about something that isn’t yet a /big/ problem.  Because I do not know exactly why this happens I also cannot make recommendations about how one changes this habit but, in spite of that, I do want to argue the importance of learning to prepare.  

It's impossible to prepare for all possible circumstances that may come our way.  It may even be impossible to prepare for circumstances that seem likely to come our way.  I do believe, though, that in some small, humble ways we can learn to view life itself as preparation for the unpredictable and the unknowable.  As we spend a few days talking about the importance of becoming process-oriented, I'd like us to begin to see preparation as a result in and of itself, rather than something we do only in order to achieve a result.  

Discovering our own need for help

Read yesterday’s post before today’s.  

Yesterday I began to tell the story of a frustrated couple from our Family Education Program who believed that they were not getting the information they needed in order to inspire their loved one to take treatment seriously.  

I heard in their voices frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and, perhaps, isolation (they did not believe other people had the same difficulty they did).  All of these feelings and experiences are real and burdensome.  I feel for them.  

Mom and I meet with families every week to discuss how to be helpful to loved ones needing recovery.  We always pass on a few key things we’ve learned.  These keys look something like this:  You can’t necessarily make someone enter treatment, but there are some skills you can learn and practice that assist a person in discovering that treatment and recovery are good ideas worth pursuing.  The portion of the family that knows that recovery is necessary needs to pursue their own recovery because everyone involved needs healing, support, encouragement, and education and these factors combined create an environment where recovery is more possible than it might otherwise be.  

The frustrated family’s problem, I think, is the belief that there is a hidden key somewhere that will unlock a door that provides a solution.  They believe that there is some trick no one is telling them that will give them their desired goal, their desired end.  They are solutions-focused and not yet process-oriented.  

I say this not to judge them.  I do not believe it is their fault and I believe it is totally understandable.  I believe everyone who has this sort of problem begins roughly in this place.  But it has got me thinking about the difference between being solutions-oriented people verses process-oriented people (of course, we can probably mix both, it doesn’t have to be a choice).  

And so, I want to spend a few days writing about the nature of process.  

How do I make someone do something they need?

A speaker at a recent Family Education Program presented various options and approaches to treatment.  Each FEP meeting draws a diverse crowd of people in terms of the recovery spectrum and the recovery process.  Some of the attendees are in the midst of a substance use disorder.  Some have family members in the midst of a substance use disorder.  Some have family members in long-term recovery, some are in long-term recovery themselves.  

In this particular meeting, a mother and father raised their hands to ask how to get their loved one into treatment.  They have heard all the options before, but their loved one is stubbornly resistant.  They believe they know the options, and they now need to know how to capitalize on them.  They were frustrated, fed up.  I don’t know this for sure- but I would guess they felt their situation was unique and that their loved one was more stubbornly resistant than the average bear.  

Their predicament highlights perhaps the central problem family’s encounter once they discover a loved one needs help.  But, at the same time, the question also highlights a problem in terms of how they have been coached to approach recovery.  

What problem?  I’ll tell you tomorrow.

A prayer for your recovery journey

Do you have a favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer?  If not, Google it and find one.  Maybe use it today to guide your prayer time!  

 

 

Here’s one version I like:

 

Our Father in heaven,

Reveal who you are.

Set the world right;

Do what’s best—

   as above, so below.

Keep us alive with three square meals.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

You’re in charge!

You can do anything you want!

You’re ablaze in beauty!

   

Yes. Yes. Yes.  This is from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation.  Sometimes I use this instead of my NIV or CEB translations that I have used for years.  It just helps to shake things up sometimes!

 

Reaching out for help: Part II

We are almost two weeks into a series of discussions intended to inspire us to make some changes.  Who could you reach out to and talk to about your own limitations and longings?  I have a friend who I’ve been talking to lately who kept telling me she was lonely but after some reflection we discovered that her root problem wasn’t so much loneliness as longing for more depth in the relationships she already had.

 

 

Find someone to share with today.

 

Reaching out for help

I know folks who rotate in and out of recovery.  They are often the more opinionated among us with regards to what it means to work a decent program.  Here’s what I would suggest as an alternative perspective.

 

 

If you’ve tried the same things, done it the same way, and have failed to get any different results - maybe change something.

 

This may require some stretch.

 

When my mom died I was shaken and distraught.  I was depressed.  I was sick for months - literally, not just figuratively.  After several months I began to regain some health and I used that energy to reach out.

 

I have developed a cadre of resources over the years to support my recovery but my toolbox felt rusty and unsatisfying so I chose instead to pick up a new tool.  I added to my resources by getting a personal trainer and she helped reshape my philosophy of both exercise and nutrition.

 

It turns out that shaking things up can be good for us.  

 

What old habits do you keep returning to in the hopes that you will get new and different results?  What other healthy, new methods might you explore?

 

One Day at a Time

One famous phrase that sprung out of AA is “one day at at time”; this is incredibly hard advice to accept.  When my friend got outed for her adulterous ways, she wanted to hurry up and get on with it.  

 

 

She grew impatient with her husband’s “unwillingness to forgive and forget since he’s a Christian” - her words exactly.  I was more amazed that he stayed quiet and didn’t retort, “Well, I’m a little surprised that you, being a Christian and all, forgot to not cheat on me with every Tom, Dick and Harry within the city and four surrounding counties.”  

 

Transformation is no small thing and it is more like a marathon than a sprint.  This is no excuse for complacency, but there needs to be room for rest (as opposed to relapse) as we work.  

 

My friend had the nerve to suggest that maybe I wasn’t trusting her enough to suggest more “assignments” so that she could move forward in her recovery a rate that was more fitting to her drive to succeed.  But I heard all this as true signs that her journey back to wellness had barely begun.

 

Rest.  Figure out how to do so.  It’s important.

 

Here are a few suggestions:  workout but not like a maniac, take walks without worrying about if you get in 10,000 steps, draw, color in a coloring book, read fiction, clean out your garage, mow your lawn, keep a puzzle going, if it’s winter build a fire in the fireplace and enjoy it, use good mugs for your coffee,  go to the movies….what else?  See - this recovery work isn’t all work and no play!!

 

Emotional Sobriety

There is a temptation, I suspect, in any work of self-reflection, to get to a moment when we believe we must overcome our inclination and push forward.  I think of this as courage, and certainly it is a necessary tool for transformation.

 

 

But we can mess this up terribly when we push aside our feelings simply because we are afraid they will lead us astray.  Our feelings count.  They aren’t the ONLY thing we count, but to repress them, suppress them or try to deny them is futile work and we can end up sick as a result.

 

Where do feelings come into play in our work?  We start with recognizing and owning them.  This allows us to start the journey of handling our feelings in ways that are healthy and appropriate.  

 

In my family of origin, anxious people expressed anxiety and fear as anger.  This was the norm.  I was a grown up with children of my own before I was able to recognize that what I had called rage and anger and frustration all my life were thin veils for a ton of anxiety and fear.  

 

Much of our work, if we want to grow and change, will require us to come to grips with our own unawareness of our true feelings, learn how to develop healthy and appropriate emotions, and deal responsibly with those that are destructive in ourselves or others.

 

I hear people in meetings talk about emotional sobriety.  This is no small thing.  

 

How have your own emotions hindered your relationships?  Have others ever given you feedback about yourself that startled you as it relates to your emotional expressiveness?

 

Dealing with our emotions may require a supportive team.  Perhaps finding one will be part of many of our “to do” lists as well….

 

Living independently of God

I’m not a big fan of the word “sin” - maybe it is my weak spiritual stomach or perhaps it is because I have seen so many instances when someone is willing to use the word as a weapon but utterly incapable of applying it personally.  Somewhere along the line I was encouraged to think of sin as “living independently of God” and this simple way of seeing has helped me stomach the “s” word.  One of the things I love about this definition is that it frees us from unhealthy arguments over things Christian people have argued about - quite unattractively - for centuries.  Pair that with the work of the 12 steps, which is all about focusing on our side of the street and “doing” things in response to what we find clogging up our gutters and we have a combination that I think really helps us make progress in terms of meaningful change.  

 

 

This doesn’t make sin irrelevant.  This too is reflective in mutual aid societies like AA, where we learn that our “ism” may be a disease but that doesn’t let us off the hook.  Disease is not an excuse, merely part of the story.

 

A part of any transformational story requires us to think about sin.  I thought I’d list some words that pop up in conversations about living independently of God - infidelity in all its forms, arrogance, pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, laziness, selfishness, disrespect towards self and others, hate, stealing, cheating, and perhaps overarching all of this suffering - failure to live, truly live, our one precious, wild life (paraphrasing Mary Oliver).  

 

I go to all sorts of lengths to NOT deal with my ways of living independently of God in thought, word and deed.  It shows up in defensiveness, justifications, blaming others, and more.  One way I avoid seeing “sin” is by dodging my own emotions.  So if you’re digging around in the foundation of your soul, maybe you could set aside time to consider how you do - or do not - handle your own emotions.  I tend to set mine aside, but I have friends who go the opposite direction with almost identical results.  They marinate in their emotions, and some tell me that it has been helpful to them to realize that just because they feel something intensely, it doesn’t mean that the intense feeling is the only data point in choosing what comes next.  Things to look for?  Self-pity, anger, negativity, resentment, depression, controlling behaviors.  

 

Also, look for fear.  In our community we often refer to that as operating by the law of scarcity.  What we mean by that is living independently of the core beliefs that include:  God wants to bless us, there is enough to go around.  In AA they say “self-centered fear of not getting what we want or of losing what we have.”  

 

All these possibilities are tricky to recognize in ourselves, which is why we suggest that transformation is a journey not a destination.  This work will be something we commit to even as we eventually realize that how we do the work my shift and morph over time.  What might be part of your transformational work?  Who or what do you need to help you make progress?

 

It gets worse before it gets better

When I was a young girl visiting my grandmother, my friends took me to the local pool.  While there I managed to step on a big shard to glass.  Once I got back to my grandmother’s, she was unwilling to look at it seeing as how she had a weak stomach.  I knew that glass needed to come out, but being her granddaughter, I too suffer from that same weak stomach.  No way was I able to pull it out.  So I hobbled next door to my friend with tweezers in hand and her mom went to work on my foot.

 

 

“Teresa, this is going to hurt worse before I can make it better,”  Dot explained.  I nodded.  What else could I do?  I was a girl out of options.  So she dug it out, cleaned the wound, bandaged me up and I eventually headed back to my grandmother’s weak-kneed but grateful.

 

I need to say something terribly difficult so let’s all take a deep breath for a moment.  Here’s the hard truth:  we are a people who have not bothered to acquire the skill sets necessary to pull shards of glass out of bleeding people AND we have lost the stomach for the work in the process.

 

This is a terrible thing.  Because it leaves us with few good options when those days arrive when it is essential for someone to help us see the deeply wounded parts of us that need to be dug out and disinfected to avoid infection.

 

In the AA literature “The Twelve and Twelve” someone with a stomach for telling hard truths wrote “that most of the alcoholics under investigation were still childish, emotionally sensitive, and grandiose.”  Ouch.  And let me hasten to add that this malady is certainly NOT limited to folks with a substance use disorder.  This is true for all of us some of the time.

 

How do you think your own childishness, emotional sensitivity and grandiose thinking has hindered your own ability to live the life of your dreams?

 

A prayer for your recovery journey

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than

To be comforted –

To understand, than to be understood –

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

 

Amen

 

May you find a way to comfort, understand, love, set ego aside, and forgive today.  In so doing, may God grant you mercy.  

 

It begins with a mess

A couple days ago I mentioned a friend who had trouble staying faithful to her husband; she just COULDN’T stop the cheating, in spite of a variety of factors that should have at a minimum scared her straight.  On a more profound level, it seemed to both of us that this high-risk behavior wasn’t “her”.  I’m not sure who the “her” is that serial infidelity would be a fit for, but this seemed like a strange secret compulsion for a woman committed to faithful living.  It didn’t fit her own professed core values and that made the situation a puzzler.  To no one’s surprise but her own, she eventually got caught and as her life collapsed around her she began to have a different perspective on her relationship with God.  Without a place to run or hide, exposed with her life laid bare for all to see, she was trying to make sense of the situation.  However, her instincts about how to go about repairing the damage of her life were not great.  This is true for many of us.  Here is one (limited) way to think about spiritual work:

 

1.      The walk begins.  The first step is to give attention and energy to figuring out what it means to be faithful.  It’s in this stage where we might explore the concept of sin.  For example, my friend having grown up in the 70’s where sexual promiscuity was not only a thing but a cool lifestyle choice, exploring how her sexuality might be informed by her faith would make a lot of sense.  Just as true, we might explore how our faith informs our driving habits as well – just to be clear – it’s a whole life re-evaluation.  We are looking for where our behavior is “off” and out-of-sync. (What steps correlate to this if you are a 12-stepper?)

2.     The journey continues.  This is when we continue to deepen our knowledge and love of God as we understand him.  At this stage our belief has moved us beyond the tutorial into the wide open spaciousness of curiosity and open-heartedness with regular check-ups regarding our behavior – just to make sure we aren’t kidding ourselves. (Steps call this____?)

3.     The journey bears fruit.  Finally, as we do the appropriate actions associated with the first two stages of faithful exploration, it becomes a by-product of the work that we are spiritually awakened and we desire to love and serve others.  In theory.  (This step is:      )

 

As often happens, my friend saw little need for reviewing the first two steps and wanted to jump on the bandwagon of stage three.  She was eager to use her experience to help others who were also struggling with the compulsions she herself was oh so familiar with.  The problem, at least as I saw it, was that she was putting the cart before the horse.  At this point, all she had to share was her “story” with a little s.  Now that the cat was out of the bag, she spent her days endlessly repeating the sordid details of her affairs.  This wasn’t carrying the message of hope so much as it was endlessly taking people around to the back of her metaphorical home and showing them the dirty laundry she hung up on the line without bothering to wash the clothes first.  Making a mess is so very normal, we all do it in various ways, but if we want to change we have to be willing to not move too quickly away from the stench.  We have work to do before things start smelling sweeter.

 

Wholeheartedness

In Brown’s introduction to her book Rising Strong she says, “I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.  It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”  (p.xix)

 

My friend with the serial adultery issue was the first to acknowledge that her adultery didn’t fit with her core values.  She is a pastor in a large church.  She teaches a course on ethics at the local community college.  She would be mortified if her daughter found out her dirty little secret. In spite of all that acknowledgement, she seemed very reluctant to actually DO anything different.  What was she missing?  Here are some things we can shoot for that might help us walk a path of personal growth, and we can perhaps use them to guide our own insights about what is “missing” in our search for transformation:

 

Courage

Compassion

Connection

 

Change is more likely to happen when we utilize courage, compassion and connection to do our work.  Sadly, I often hear parents lament over their children’s problems.  Having three of my own I have done my fair share of lamenting too.  But I’ve never seen it hurt a situation for those of us who love a struggling person – whether child, spouse, parent or third cousin twice removed – to do our own work of recovery.

 

I hope you have some dreams about what a wholehearted life would look like for you personally.  What foundational actions might you need to take to get the ball rolling in the right direction?  What small first right steps need to be in place so that you can move toward your wholehearted, whole hog life?  Can you find courage, compassion and connection in your own life?  What might have to change in order to access these 3 c’s?

 

People Change

I have a friend who could not stop cheating on her husband.  She often asked me how God could do this to her.  I’ve stopped trying to respond to the question having come to understand that it is both rhetorical and a way to sidestep her own personal responsibility in the mess that is her life.  One day we went to lunch and over dessert she suggested that people don’t change.  I was forced to make a reply.  I couldn’t just let that one stand.

 

One benefit of being part of a community is the stories I hear.  For years and years, meeting most every single week usually multiple times with said community in various forms gives all of us a fairly honest perspective on our daily lives.  These stories are rich and nuanced and lived out often over decades, not days.  When someone speaks of a changed life it is hard to be a BS’er because if that person is part of our tribe, we see their life unfold in our midst.  Everyone knows I don’t have it all together and I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who are honest enough to admit the same of themselves. But that is not equivalent to saying people don’t change.  People do change.  Sometimes in huge ways, other times in small, uneven next right steps.  There are people who were lost and gone astray from their own core values and who found their way back to themselves and a purposeful, meaningful life.  I felt I needed to share that information with my friend or else I might be complicit in leaving her feeling that she had to accept a duplicitous and self-shaming lifestyle.  I shared a couple of examples from the lives of people in our community that indicated that change is possible; she ate her dessert, sighed and indicated to me that I just didn’t understand.  And she’s right.  I don’t know why or how or who might experience freedom from their compulsions and confusing choices that lead to heartache.  But my confusion doesn’t keep it from happening.

 

Quoting Sister Monahan again, she says  “…sober AA members who have been able to stop drinking and to ‘stay stopped,’ as we say, often speak of themselves as ‘chosen,’ of having received sobriety as a gift.  I believe that I have indeed received a gift, but my conviction that God loves everyone and desires good for everyone keeps me from thinking of myself as chosen.  I simply do not know why I am among those who are fortunate enough to be in recovery.”  According to Brene Brown, there are actually skill sets that can help us grow, change, even transform.  She likes to call it wholehearted living.  

 

 

Tomorrow, I’ll unpack her concept, but for today I invite you to consider this:  do you think you are living wholeheartedly or are you just dialing it in?  Are you stuck in a giant “sigh” of defeat?  Change requires that we start by acknowledging the truth about ourselves.  Today, consider if you are satisfied with your life. Why?  Why not?   What’s unmanageable? What would change if you realized that things could get better?