Healing starts with honest self-reflection

An inventory is when we basically take stock of our life. This means everything, not just the problem that got our attention. Inventories are done thoroughly when we include EVERYTHING on the list. This includes the positive and the negative, and later on I will make it easy for you to complete one with instructions so thorough it will make your head spin. I have yet to meet a person who does a particularly decent job listing the positive traits about themselves AND no one gets all giddy over the possibility of inventorying their fears, resentments and sexual history. Despite our collective reluctance, the list needs to be as complete and honest as we can bear.

A couple came to Northstar Community (a recovery church I co-pastor) looking for help for the wife’s drinking. He thought she had a problem, she did not agree with his assessment. During our conversation I asked the husband about his drinking habits. I do this to assess what we’re working with when we meet a family. He said, “I have one drink a night.” Sounds reasonable.

I replied, “Would it be possible for the two of you to go alcohol and drug free for thirty days? This will help us establish a bit of a baseline for whether or not there is a problem with alcohol in your family, especially since the two of you are not in agreement about the severity of the issue.” They agreed.

Within twelve hours the wife was in detox; after another twelve hours, her husband joined her. It turns out that his single vodka per night was poured into super-sized Yeti cooler. He was pounding the vodka but was technically accurate when he said he had “one drink” per night. Figuring this out saved him from detoxing in an unsafe manner. It helped the treatment team treat the real problem, not just the identified patient in the family (his wife).

When you do this inventory, problems will emerge. That’s reality. But because this is a spiritual program, we can trust that it is not a harsh reality intended to shame and blame. It is a pathway to healing. The more honesty you can muster, the better the support available to you will be because your team will be better informed.

If you are interested in taking this step, begin today by building a team of folks who can support your work. You need more details about how to build this amazing support group? Give Scott or Teresa a shout out! (scott@northstarcommunity.com or teresa@northstarcommunity.com)

New Strategies for Future Challenges

We are all hot messes. It is hard to examine ourselves. This may not be your first rodeo with recovery and Step Four. That’s okay - you are not alone. I have a friend who was working, by all accounts, a decent program. Her mother died unexpectedly in a car accident. On the day of her mother’s funeral, she had a slip up and drank at her mother’s memorial service. She feels like a failure.

Of course she does. But what we are learning in recovery is that our feelings are not always fact. Her friends empathize with how lousy she feels AND they remind her that she did not lose all her clean time because she had one slip. She feels a lot of shame - and we can all relate to that! But using on this particularly difficult day without a support network around her to navigate the funeral and after party? That does not make her a failure. And it does not negate her recovery efforts. It does, however, make her vulnerable if she doesn’t jump right back on the recovery train.

Perhaps you are not a person in recovery from Substance Use Disorder. Maybe you cannot relate to her struggles. Take a few breaths and re-evaluate your situation. How many times have you promised yourself ‘A’ only to live ‘B’. Maybe your blood work indicates you are headed on a direct path toward diabetes and you know that you MUST change your way of eating. After your son’s birthday bash. After the holidays. Or your marriage is kind of a mess and you know you SHOULD go get some help, but who to go to? And it’s expensive! And time consuming!! So there we have it - we are all far more alike than different.

Early recovery and initial efforts to change feel bad and are hard to sustain. It is easy to think that this means life is bad. It’s hard work but helpful to remember that this bad feeling may be just a blip on the road to an otherwise abundant life. A slip that is rapidly followed up by a return to recovery or new ways of living can help a person and their support team figure out how to tweak their program for more effectiveness. In the case above, my friend has decided that she will no longer attend high stress, heavy drinking family functions without a recovery buddy. She will go early and leave early. She has new strategies for future challenges, even those that are not as traumatic as her mom’s funeral.

Accurately assessing ourselves creates peace

There is absolutely, hands down, no better way to make peace with myself and others than to take stock of myself and see, really see, who I am and how my personhood impacts those around me. This is an essential part of a fresh start.

Imagine you are transferring the ownership of your life to God in the same way you would transfer ownership of a business. One of the first things you would do in negotiating to sell a business would be to take an inventory to discover the damaged or out-of-date goods that are no longer salable.

In Step Four we call it a “moral” inventory because we compile a list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest moral values. We also inventory our “good” traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life’s moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self- defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults.

- Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing

Another person in recovery talked about his own Step 4 inventory when he said, “The inventory is the first thing I do in conscious partnership with God. And that’s why prayer is so important in the process. It is not something I’m going to figure out when I’m preoccupied with and deconstruct it and analyze it...all those things I’ve tried to do [on my own] and came out disastrously wrong.”

An inventory is how we STEP UP. But we can only do so when we have leaned into this sure-footed understanding that God is not out to get us. Tomorrow, we will look more closely at the process itself.

Learn to question your feelings

When I was a kid I often dreamed of the police coming to the house and hauling my dad off to jail. As I aged up, I often had these vague feelings, fear and dread mostly, that I was a person who might get hauled off to prison for wrongdoing. What wrongdoing? I did not know. I wondered - am I a bad person?

I could shrink all this down and hypothesize about my chronic shame, but it would bore you and miss the point I am trying to meander to. Here’s the deal: There are a ton of things we cannot know for certain, but one thing that is true enough and sure enough to make all of us collectively jump for joy.

This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit.

~ 1 John 4:13, The Message

Our feelings are helpful, but don’t get the final say in determining our value. Neither do other people’s feelings, thoughts and opinions. Here is what we can know: We are living in the light when we wrestle with what it means to love God. There is no major renovation needed to turn us INTO a someone God can love, he created us as beings he deeply and profoundly loves. This changes the nature of our work, and the confidence in our capacity to be faithful people.

We were made for this abundant, loving life. It is our best and most natural look. But we still screw up. We do bad things. God knows this, and made provision for us. It is beautifully laid out in the 12 Steps of AA. In case these are not steps you trod, we’ll unpack it in future blog posts.

The benefit of making decisions slowly

Some situations are mine to own and respond to! What if I am the lead dog? What if the decisions needed rest at my feet? If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

1. Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

1. Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

2. How can I contribute?

1. Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

3. What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The STEP BACK is an important boundaries tool. But the STEP UP is all about character. What happens when we realize that we’ve messed up? Well folks, there are appropriate responses for that too.

Stay tuned!

Our goal is to become fully human

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”[1]

~Theodore Roosevelt

What really counts, what really matters, what makes all the difference in life satisfaction is about what you decide to do with your one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver paraphrase). No matter how much others might disagree with your perspective, it is yours and no one can or should try to take ownership of your life from you.

My prayer is that we continue to encourage one another to enter the arena and fight for a life of purpose. Dare to believe that you can and are worth doing hard things so that you might enjoy a life of meaning. You are capable and uniquely qualified to bear the image of God. You are made, and it was a custom job, to show up in this world as a person of virtue. Fully human.

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

~Matthew 10:39, The Message


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7-it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts-not-the-man

Boundaries can change as we grow

When I work a spiritual program, there are so many decisions I do NOT have to bother considering. I do not have to decide whether I am going to try to manipulate my husband to make me happy - I am not. My feelings are my responsibility. I can move on from asking him to make me happy and ask instead - what do I need and want? I practice the habit of thinking about what I need to do to take responsibility for my own well-being. Do I need a meeting? A long walk? A nap? A snack? Coffee and a date night with my hubby? Of course, part of my work can include saying to my husband, “Hey, I am feeling disconnected from you. I would like a date night. What about you?”

He then considers his own boundaries and can reply, “Me too!” or “I am too tired for a date night tonight; can we just order take-out and go to bed early and snuggle?” I do not have the right to violate his preferences in order to make me feel better. On the other hand, I also know that it is not my job to make him happy either! If he wants a date night too we are happy campers and off we go to play tennis, see a movie or eat out. If he’s too tired my response can be, “Ok! Cool!” With healthy boundaries I also have the capacity to respectfully circle back around later. If I still feel disconnected after we eat pizza and fall asleep at 8:30 pm like two old people, I can say, “Can we revisit the conversation about feeling disconnected? Pizza and our bedtime ritual that resembles a toddler’s isn’t helping me connect with you!”

The ultimate walls and fences that do not move (unless I come to greater understanding of God and his ways that result in an adjustment) are the ways of living and loving that God says are acceptable (mercy, love, forgiveness, respect, kindness, etc.) versus those that are not acceptable (revenge, manipulation, hatred, rage, meanness, selfishness, etc.). These skills were not learned in a vacuum. They are developing as I grow in my conscious contact with the God of my understanding. As my understanding grows, my boundaries adjust accordingly.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.”

~ John 3:34-36, The Message


Boundaries in light of God's Will

One of the consequences of living by a set of unhealthy principles is boundary confusion and mayhem.  A boundary is an invisible and essential fence that is supposed to guard our personal space.  Every human has them.  They are flexible and can be adjusted as situations arise.  I have a very thick boundary around my relationship with someone who has a history of verbally abusing me.  I have a very thin and pliable boundary in relationship to my husband who is kind and respectful and loving toward me.  There are two kinds of walls - one is internal and the other is external.  The external wall serves to protect us physically and sexually.  The internal wall protects us intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  In both situations we have a responsibility to share with others our boundaries so that they can respect them.  We have a responsibility to respond according to what they teach us about their willingness to respect our stated boundary.  Perhaps most important of all - we are absolutely responsible for deciding and living by our boundary preferences.  We cannot make someone else respect our boundaries BUT we can make decisions that keep our boundaries intact.

For whatever reason, Substance Use Disorder disrupts the boundary system of the suffering person, their family, and their friends, but a host of other issues also disrupt boundaries.  Some folks choose to build a fortress to protect themselves from the chaos that the active addiction creates.  Others are so freaked out by the chaos that they completely abandon their walls and crash through the walls of the person they love who is suffering in a misguided attempt to save them.  They are overly helpful. In the biz we call that enmeshment and enabling.  Healthy boundaries help us choose whether we will say yes or no to others; they also help us graciously receive a yes or no response from others.  As we heal and grow, we begin the necessary work of repairing the walls.  One of the “simple” but hard to apply aspects of our work is learning the discipline of using our boundaries based on God’s will, not our own.  We turn to his word for guidance.  We learn, for example, that no matter how desperate we feel it is not okay to treat others disrespectfully.  We have a boundary of respect for self and others BECAUSE God says that this is how we treat one another.  There are countless examples of re-framing our boundaries and beliefs as a result of leaning into the work of understanding how God says we are created to live and be in the world.  This is the journey of a lifetime.

 

But me he caught—reached all the way

    from sky to sea; he pulled me out

Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,

    the void in which I was drowning.

They hit me when I was down,

    but God stuck by me.

He stood me up on a wide-open field;

    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!  

~Psalm 18:16-19, The Message

Violating boundaries

I love thinking about boundaries.  The more I study them, the more ways I find that I have violated my own or another’s boundary.  Lately I’ve been considering how boundary violations make it more difficult to deal with conflict.  Obviously, boundary violations result in someone losing their sense of safety.  Conflict is neither resolved nor managed when safety is compromised for any one person in the disagreement.  Here are a few ways I have been rethinking the applications of boundaries during a conflict.  Boundary violations include:


1. Assuming that we know what others think, feel or why they do
2. Trying to solve other people’s problems
3. Asking other people to solve our problems


I am amazed at how certain I can be about what someone else’s motives are AND how often I am completely off-base.  It’s incredible to me how many times I have sought to help someone solve a problem that they did not believe they had.  But what flabbergasts me about myself the most is the number of times over the years, in both small and large ways, I have asked someone else to solve a problem that was my responsibility to tackle.  This doesn’t mean that we are all alone and without resources; this doesn’t mean we are never given the opportunity to provide our opinion on a subject. We can invite people to help us, we can offer help to others, we can ask for and/or ask to give feedback, but none of this is ok without permission.  And none of it gives us the right to expect others to follow our advice OR requires us to follow the advice given us.


Today, think about boundaries in terms of how our misuse of them can exacerbate conflict and how being sensitive to what is ours to do can free us up to work on ourselves (or play tennis)!

Knowing your place

I am not sure how it happened but my friend Linda agrees with me on this so it must be true:  we have often messed up a relationship because we did not know our place in the grand scheme of things.  We have given ourselves way too much permission to talk!


Here’s the deal: if we want to have the privilege of being able to speak into the life of the people we love and also have intimate connection, we pretty much have to build up to that status.  This capacity to give and receive feedback is VITAL to maturity.  It is a treasure to have a few people we can go to and tell everything we’re up against and ask for feedback.  As giver or receiver of feedback, both positions are a gift.


People who develop the capacity to embrace life and experience reasonable peace are those who can tell themselves the truth about their relationships.  They neither demonize nor idealize their family members, friendships and even enemies.


Knowing our place with respect to how others teach us they feel about us is crucial.  People who love us treat us in a loving manner.  People who care about us do not hurt us.  People who are safe and trustworthy are respectful even in disagreement.  People who can help us are those who have taught us that they do not hold us in contempt; they respect our boundaries; they treat us with dignity.


And of course - the reverse is true too.  Others are learning about the value we place on them by the way we treat them.  If we do not know how to love in an appropriately boundaried, respectful and dignified manner, we will not be the best candidate for intimacy.


Do you know your place?

Losing Touch

During the years when my family had an extremely busy social calendar, I had a competing example that helped me not run off into the woods and build a treehouse fort for one or obsessively google small islands for sale at rock bottom prices.  I had a ministry opportunity to serve a woman who was completely isolated - some of it circumstantial, other factors were self-inflicted. Always introverted, no one would have ever accused her of being the life of any party. But after months of isolation her social skills were pretty rusty, making social interactions even more difficult.  I served on a visitation committee and in that role I would visit her once a month. After doing this for a couple months, I began to dread the visits. WHY I did so became apparent one rainy spring day when I showed up with soup for a visit.

 

 

She talked incessantly for 40 minutes, which I attributed to her isolation and loneliness. I was startled when she said, “I have a bone to pick with you. I find you very difficult to have lunch with.  You never share anything personal about yourself. I share all this personal information about me but you never return my overture to connect.”

 

In the moment the only thing I could think about was how she NEVER STOPPED TALKING-how could I get a word in? I never figured it out in real time. She left the church soon thereafter when the church was not willing to pay her utility bill every month. Today, I think I understand that the problem was not her incessant talking, her demands for financial support or even my unwillingness to share my most intimate thoughts.  The real issue was confusion over the appropriate love arena we operated within. One of the prickly issues in this scenario is that this woman was acting as if we were intimate friends (I want to know everything about you) and the church was in an intimate relationship with her (pay my bills). From my perspective and I think the church’s, this was a ministerial visit within the context of community. We were willing to be community, but it was beyond healthy boundaries to take on the role of intimate relationship with her, either individually or as a church body.  When we do not appropriately match up our needs and wants within the appropriate context for addressing them, we have issues. Can you relate?

Who am I?

Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.  Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

 

Election day 2017 was almost as traumatic as the presidential election day experience.  This time I walked straight into two dads giving each other the business while their combined tribe of five boy children watched.  I know these guys.  I know these kids.  These folks are friends; the dads have known each other since THEY were in diapers.  In a way, this familiarly on my part made the interaction MORE disheartening than the elderly lady who littered as a protest to others having a different political persuasion.

 

This time I wasn’t in shock; this time I wasn’t going to stand quietly by.

 

But what was I going to do?

 

That is ALWAYS the question in situations like this one. 

 

Let me back up and say that in a few minutes I will stop writing, jump up and run over to our “studio” (a different table in my office) and teach a webinar on DETACHMENT, CODEPENDENCY, and BOUNDARIES.  I do NOT think that if something needs doing it is always my place to do so.  I angst; I work out; I meditate; I write down things I feel and want to do and say and then burn them in my fire pit.  I teach hard things that I almost never want to abide by – but this is what it means to grow up.

 

It’s hard.

 

I am a strange bird.  I am both easily frightened and strangely aggressive when it comes to defending someone I perceive is being taken advantage of.  I am nervous and anxious almost 24/7.  I rarely feel capable but am always defensive when criticized.  My dreams are haunted with worst case scenarios and villains.  I try not to burden others with it, but there it is – it is my reality.  I feel responsible for many things that are objectively speaking NOT mine to do.  Sometimes I get in such a state about those things that I fail to notice the things I am responsible for.  Like making sure we have toilet paper in the house or turning on the stove to cook the Thanksgiving turkey.  Pray for my family.

 

But there is one thing that I have been doing consistently for over 30 years that I stand by unapologetically – I keep peering into God’s word to find answers to my moment-by-moment dilemmas.  I know that the bible is not a magic book of answers; I understand that it is the story of God, the story of us (to quote Sean Gladding).  I’ve read enough of it to have MORE questions than answers from the text at this point in my life.  However.  The scriptures reveal hidden mysteries and sacred truths that can guide us at least toward the light, even if on many days it seems so very pale and dim. 

To be continued…

Looking back, leaning in...

Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. Philippians 3:13 CEB

 

On election day 2017 I headed out to do my civic duty with dread in my heart.  During the previous presidential election two seemingly lovely ladies with opposing political perspectives caused a scene and it just killed my spirit.  Heading back to the polling precinct felt like returning to a crime scene.  To be clear, it was mainly one of the two that acted up.  One woman was a lovely retired teacher from my children’s school – she was handing out sample ballots for one political party.  She was as sweet and calm and deferential as she had always been as a teacher.  Top drawer classy lady. The other, ahem, well – this happened. 

 

“May I hand you a sample ballot?”  the volunteer inquires to a statuesque woman with expertly coiffed piles of white hair wearing a killer pair of red shoes and a St. John’s suit that looked fresh off the Nordstrom’s full price rack.  In silence, Red heels grabs the ballot, rips it to shreds and throws it on the ground, stomps her foot (not kidding), and harrumphs at the retired teacher lady.  She folds her arms.  She glares.  She sighs.  She calls the volunteer all sorts of names, one of which I had to google to understand. She was WAY older than me – maybe 100?  I thought perhaps she should have had more skill sets than she displayed.  But she had excellent balance in those shoes.

 

I was frozen in my spot, thinking, “Surely she had other options.” For example, how about..

 

“No thank you, I am clear on my voting preferences.”  OR “Hell no!”  OR 

 

“Sure,” takes the sample ballot, holds it until she gets to the nearest trash can and then deposits it where she believes it belongs.  OR

 

“I don’t need the ballot, but I am curious.  Could you tell me why you are out here on this cold, wet, rainy day to support this platform?  I won’t be voting for them, but I am really interested in hearing your perspective.”

 

When did it get so bad that little old ladies no longer led the way in decorum, wisdom and kindness?  That’s my pity-party sentence – now, let’s get down to changing the world one small next right step at a time.

 

To be continued…