Change? We fear change.

We resist change. I think it is, in large part, because we believe it is harder than we can manage. Change is hard, but we make it feel insurmountable when we expect more of ourselves than the process of recovery actually asks of us. In point of fact, believing the lie that change is too hard is pro-addiction thinking. It is the disease system trying to trick us into believing we cannot do it, so why try?

I suppose this is why I believe that spirituality is such a key ingredient for desperate folks looking for their freedom. In a spiritual program like the 12-Steps, we are NOT asked to do the heavy lifting, we are promised that God will do the hard stuff - and he is eager to do so!

So what is our part? Here is what is being asked of you:

* Believe that God has more power than you do.

* Accept that you do not have enough power or capacity to reason to solve your problems without a higher power.

* Trust that restoration is possible for you.

I’m not going to kid you, this is the first part of the solution. But boy wowser gee whiz - it is a pretty freaking big part with a lot of implications.

Answer the following:

If I believe that God has more power than I have, what changes for me in terms of my relationship with him and my actions on a daily basis?

If I accept that I do not have either the power or the capacity to solve my problems, what changes in the way I deal with my problems?

If I trust that restoration is possible for me, what’s my next right step?

Keeping a Realistic Perspective on Expectations

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12

Frustrated with a lack of measurable progress, a friend of mine who struggles with binge eating tells me she is tired of trying. Her support group is going to great effort to cheer her up and they send her slogans like “You can do it!” “Be the change you want to see!” and other catchy phrases that imply more effort will automatically yield desired results.

Can I level with you? Most of us are ambivalent about change. My friend says she wants to fit into skinny jeans. But is fitting into skinny jeans really an expression of a higher calling in life? If her goal is to fit into skinny jeans at her age, then no wonder she is discouraged! But what about the goal of….being healthy enough to play with her grandchildren on the floor with a reasonable expectation that she can get up afterwards? She has already accomplished that with her weight management program and fitness regime. What about being able to walk five miles without getting winded because, when she babysits, that is about how many steps it takes to keep up with an active five year old who LOVES to play outside at the local playground? Check. Done. Is pressing on really her issue? Or does she need to adjust her expectations?

Today, offer yourself and others a more realistic perspective on life - pursue that!!

We may not change

We’re one week into a new year. What are you going to do about it? Set resolutions? Give up and NOT set resolutions because it’s too discouraging when you have failed by the third week in January? Yep. Me too. I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. I love to make them; I hate it when I cannot live up to their promise.

In 2019 it is possible that you may not change in any significant way. Are you ok with that? Is it okay to be okay with that way of living? Is this acceptance or nihilism?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

I am not okay with not changing in 2019. I want to keep growing and I assume that means that change is required.

I am not giving up on the possibility that I can get better with age. Like a fine wine. Or Helen Mirren.

For the next few days or so, I’m going to blog about some of the issues in my own life that have stymied my capacity for growth and as a by-product, change.

I hope that by visiting my past mistakes, I might find a path forward for meaningful change, i.e., transformation. We can fake change or submit to the process of actually doing the work of change. I am too old to fake it. How about you? Are you willing to think about what is holding you back?

Focus on what you CAN control

I am not a fan of living in a world of contempt.  How can I make a difference without falling into my own trap of contempt toward others?  What is the opposite of contempt?

Appreciation. Sounds simple, right?  Say some nice stuff to others; maybe bring them a cookie once in awhile?  Good start, but let’s delve deeper.

According to Dr. John Gottman, a researcher who has dedicated himself to studying the institution of marriage, the #1 predictor of failure is when couples treat each other with disrespect and contempt.  

Research indicates that decent marriages and disastrous ones have about the same amount of conflict, which surprised the heck out of me.  I figured that marriages with lots of conflict broke up and the lucky ones with less conflict remained intact. Not true according to Gottman’s research.

It turns out that marriages that create a culture of appreciation for small things makes for a firm foundation and guards against toxic contempt. He calls it a habit of the mind - developing the practice of scanning the environment for ways we can express praise and appreciation.  Gottman suggests we should work hard to catch folks doing right and call attention to it through affirmation. Constantly.

I would add a caveat.  Beware of manipulative praise.  When my grandson went through a brief phase of temper tantrums and the excessive use of the word “NO!”, our family chose a strategy of response.  As a team we chose to not respond or give any attention to foot stomping and loud profanity-sound-a-like shouts of “NO!” We would avert our gaze, go still and wait.  He caught on pretty quickly that all the drama didn’t serve him well. But it took a LOT of practice to rid himself of the impulse to respond so robustly to his passions.

When he remembered that his hissy fit was not serving him well, he would turn on the charm.  I particularly loved how it worked with me. He would bat his long eyelashes and stare lovingly into my eyes, raise his pudgy little arms for an embrace and with the sweetest sing songy voice EVER say, “MEEEEEEEEEEEM (translation for those who don’t speak 18 month language, he is saying Meme).”  Oh my gosh. So cute.

But I would not give into my inclination to gush over his charming entreaty because the little dude was working me.  I don’t think this is what Gottman has in mind. He is not saying that we flatter and cajole and charm anytime we find ourselves in conflict.  What he is suggesting is that we develop the habit of sincere affirming and praising and appreciating whenever possible, even over the smallest matters, as a way of life.

I may not be able to stop every impulse I have to think contemptuously (progress not perfection) but I CAN become a person who becomes more alert and responsive to appreciating those around me.

Crucial Conversations Can Inspire Change

After our initial conversation (see yesterday’s blog post), this mom decided she needed more time to process.  We met two other times to talk. More time allowed her to share with me why she was more ok with her multiple-times-a-day pot smoking than she was with her son’s similar pattern of use.  

Since she wasn’t asking for my opinion, I did a totally weird thing and didn’t give it.  Later she told me that just listening to herself talk actually helped her change her own opinion on the subject.

By the end of our meetings she had a plan.  I suppose there were many ways all of this could have gone down, but here is what happened:

  1. She decided she had a problem herself.

  2. She didn’t feel equipped to talk to her son with integrity until she got some help for herself.

  3. She got help and began tapering down.  Her current goal is to be clean in 90 days.

  4. She came clean with her son about her situation and acknowledged that she was initially only focused on “his” issue.  

  5. He is currently unwilling to change his dosing.

  6. She is ok with having her own experience and believes that she will be able to circle back around and have further conversations in the days ahead.

I love this so very much.  It isn’t a neat and tidy story with an ideal ending.  But it is a story of mutual respect, no condemnation, and full of possibility of change.  These are not the kinds of conversations any of us can have if we are unconsciously contemptuous.  

Can you consider how you might have two “projects” going simultaneously?  One project is the continued work of self-examination; the second is the wisdom work of speaking up when it is ours to do and there is a problem at hand.

 

A Prayer for Wednesday

Last week we talked about change, bravery, trust, receiving feedback and the skill set of relational reciprocity.  Can we pause to admit that change is not easy?  Can we agree with Brene’ that it often requires us to challenge long held perspectives and rules which our family system has propagated for generations? 

 

In their book Rooted In God’s Love, Dale and Juanita Ryan speak to this very topic (pp.134-135) and offer a prayer, here it is:

 

Lord, it isn’t just me

that I am trying to change.

I am up against

generations of dysfunction.

An empty way of life

has dominated my family for a long time.

It has been passed down to me.

No wonder it seems so hard to change.

I need your help, Lord.

Help me to find hope

in your understanding of my struggle.

Help me to find hope in your gift of redemption.

AMEN

 

I pray this for you; I ask you to pray this for me.  Together, we carry on. 

Learning to be Reciprocal

Here are some things I have learned about reciprocity.  As a review, reciprocity can happen when folks are in relationship with one another AND they have worked out respectful, reasonably safe, and helpful ways of giving one another feedback.  This feedback, in theory, can help all parties learn and grow.  In reciprocal relationships either party is in a position to learn at all times.

 

To return to an earlier example.  Perhaps I write something on our blog and someone I have a reciprocal relationship with reads it and says, “Wow, I don’t think Teresa loves Jesus.”  In reciprocity, they come over to my house or office with a latte and say, “When I read your blog post, I thought to myself - I don’t think Teresa loves Jesus.” 

 

This gives me the PRIVILEGE of saying, “Well, this is so great to hear.  What did I say that gave you that impression?”  And they tell me. And then they get the privilege of hearing my reasoning behind what I said and my thoughts on my love for Jesus.  It’s a big win win.  The air is cleared.  We move forward.

 

Now, there are some important principles to consider:

  1.  It is not ok to tell someone else what they feel or think or believe.  This is huge.  So if my friend asks me if I love Jesus, and I say yes, my friend is free to tell me why I confused her with my blog post on that point, but she is NOT free to tell me I do not love Jesus.  See the difference?
  2. This works best if there is trust and respect in a relationship.  Honestly, I will have a different response depending on who brings the feedback.  If my son tells me I do not love Jesus, seeing as how we work together and live as a close knit family - Geez, I am going to be inclined to believe him!  And then I, being a person who wants to love Jesus with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, will ask for help in learning how to love Jesus more.  See how that works?  He has CREDIBILITY. 
  3. Even if someone does not have a large repository of trust in my relationship bank gives me unsolicited feedback (because I won’t go asking for feedback from someone I fundamentally do not trust, because that would just be silly), I can still treat them with respect.  I will probably respond quite differently to the feedback, but my core values invite me to treat everyone respectfully.  Make sense?

 

How do these ideas impact the way you relate to others?  Any insights?

Pointing out other people's problems can be costly

In our community we work hard to be students in the field of addiction and recovery.  Our community was founded on the big dream that families suffering from addiction, abuse, trauma and mental health issues needed a safe place to explore spirituality that suits their unique needs.  We felt there were many wonderful worshiping communities that supported the perspective that “Every day with Jesus is better than the day before.”  We wanted to be a place where it would be ok to say, “My life sucks; I want to know what God has to say about that.” Recently we were presented with the idea that calling another person an “addict” or “alcoholic” is shaming.  We offered families new language and suggested they try on this phrase, “My loved one suffers from a substance use disorder.”  My Lord, you would have thought we had suggested that the Pope wasn’t Catholic. Change is hard.  People pushed back.  Folks in recovery said, “Hey, I’m not ashamed; I identify with the label addict/alcoholic, whatever my ism is.  Why pretty it up?”  Family members said, “Hey, it took me ten years to acknowledge his/her addiction, are you suggesting that I pretend they AREN’T ADDICTED?”  Plenty of frustration and attitude came with the feedback - until I offered further explanation.  So the next time I pitched this idea, I said all the usual blah blah blah of new language and shame reduction, and then I said this:  “Hey, it’s like this.  If I ask my husband:  do I look fat in this outfit?  And he responds yes - that’s on me.  I own the fact that he responded to my feedback request.  BUT IF HE SAYS WITHOUT MY SOLICITING INPUT, ‘Babe, your backside is the size of Texas.’  Life at the McBean house is going to get very chilly.”

 

Everyone went, “Oh.” And from that day forward, there was no pushback.

 

Here’s the principle:  we are a community that practices reciprocity.  We are usually a fairly safe place to tell the truth.  I introduced a new concept but didn’t explain it clearly.  They taught me that I needed to improve my communication.  We kept working together and ultimately they showed me how I could illustrate a pretty big recovery point:  There are things we can (and arguably should) say about ourselves but are not as ok with having said about us. 

 

Reciprocity is a way to learn how to help us all grow up without a side order of growing resentful.  Do you have skills that make reciprocity possible?  What skills might those be? 

Stay tuned...

On Being Brave

Recently I received an email criticizing me for a particular course we were offering in our community.  This person evidently is on our mailing list.  It felt great.  Not the criticism, no, I do NOT like to be criticized but it turns out I have other feelings as well about criticism and THAT is what felt great.

 

In Brene’ Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness she opens up about her own fears and uncertainties.  In particular, when her research teaches her that she will “challenge long-held beliefs or ideas” (p.3), she confesses to self-doubt and fear.  Her plan of action, an antidote really, for this kind of personal freakout, is to “search for inspiration from the brave innovators and disrupters whose courage feels contagious.  I read and watch everything by them or about them that I can get my hands on...I do this so that when I need them, when I’m living in my fera, they come to sit with me and cheer me on.” (p.3)  For me, Brene is one of MY go-to peeps for times like these.

 

So it was GREAT when I received the email while I was studying Braving.  Brene has all sorts of amazing vocab and stories to help us figure out how to be brave especially in the midst of criticism.  Read her book.  It is so good!  What I love the most about her work is that she teaches me that brave does NOT equal fearlessness.  It doesn’t have to mean we are instantly calm and kind and cool in the face of criticism. 

 

Brave as illustrated by Brown means that we keep plugging away; we learn stuff; we develop strategies that allow us to practice bravery even when we feel like a chicken.  She harps, quite eloquently, on this thing called vulnerability and it is working for her.  So I will continue to follow her lead.

 

Along the way, I have a couple phrases of my own that I have incorporated, and tomorrow we will talk about one of them.  In the meantime, let me ask you:  how do you feel when a stranger criticizes you, your work, and/or your character?

PS.  Here’s hoping you totally cannot relate to criticism from strangers!!

What if I don't feel like it?

If my parents had instructed me to do something and I said, “I don’t feel like it” - their response would have been predictable.  Here are a few likely options:

 

“I didn’t ask you how you felt, I am telling you what to do.”

“I don’t care how you feel, I care that you do as I say.”

“Shut up and get busy.”

 

Surely the world would be in chaos if everyone ran around only doing what they FEEL like doing. As far as it went, I believe my parental units wanted to instill obedience and the capacity to do hard things in their offspring.  There is value here but I’m wondering if additional conversation focusing on the nature of feelings might also be helpful.

 

Our feelings matter, even the inconvenient ones.  On a retreat last year I went rappelling and at the top of the cliff I DID NOT FEEL LIKE STEPPING OFF INTO THE ABYSS.  But I was participating with a group of friends and we had committed to do this significantly scary thing together.   After the guides suited us up with all manner of straps and protective gear I remember distinctly my friend Kathy turning to me and saying, “I am not going to lie, I am freaking out.  This is scary.”  And that gave the rest of us permission to agree.

 

It also gave us the courage to continue. 

 

There are several appropriate responses to the “I don’t feel like its” that come our way.  Ignoring our feelings, denying them, repressing them, suppressing them - NONE of those are viable options.  Maturity and good life mentoring teach us how to manage the “I don’t feel like its….”

 

Here are some viable options:  name them, own them, figure out the appropriate response to them in a given situation, deal with them, process them, respond rather than react to them - to name a few.  I haven’t seen it work well for folks who pretend their way through healing and recovery.  For the next few days let’s talk about what works when it comes to being brave and making necessary changes - even when we do not feel like it.

Breathing (and other recommendations)

So what does all this have to do with our own work?  Well, quite a lot.  Here are a few ways to apply these principles:

 

  1.  We are more than the worst problem we face today; there are small and wonderful ways we can love others, receive love, do good, find joy  EVEN as we suffer and struggle with our issues. 
  2. We have more relationships than just our troubling ones.  We must tend to those loving relationships that bring us joy and give us a way to express joy with as much intention as we give our problem relationships.
  3. It is common, easy even, to resort to obsessive worry, blaming others, distractibility.  Breathe. 
  4. Take time to explore more than just the presenting issue.  It’s easy to notice that we our binge eating has resulted in a failure to fit into skinny jeans.  It’s obvious that if we want to get back in shape we will have to deal with the issue of creating a caloric deficit.  But WHY are we bingeing?  Binge eating is a problem and it is worthy work to deal with it.  But what lies underneath the eating will also need to be addressed if sustainable change is one’s desired result.

 

As you consider your own stage of change, how can you find support to help you clarify your readiness, the primary issue, clarify your core values and implement a plan?

Banishment

Over the hours that this team sweated large and small stuff related to the recovery ministry woes they faced, they had to face a hard truth:  relationships are conditional.  Yes, yes, love is unconditional.  But healthy relationships have conditions.  This doesn’t sit well with our desires to be merciful and gracious.  Mainly I think because we have failed to fully develop our own deep and wide understanding of the concepts of grace and mercy.  But also because let’s face it - love is yummy.  Limits are sometimes challenging to accept. One afternoon we looked at two passages of scripture that dealt with banishment: 2 Samuel 14:14 and Deuteronomy 30:4.  We also hopped over to Jeremiah 29 and considered what God asked the Israelites to do while living as slaves in Babylon.  (Lest we forget, they were experiencing a GIANT timeout/banishment as a result of their own stubborn resistance to God.)  Here’s what we noticed:

 

  1.  No wonder Paul was ragging on the Corinthians!  They were proud of the "restoration" but missing the point of what restoration truly is.  Yes, God is ALWAYS finding ways for banished people to find their way back home.  Banishment isn’t intended to be punishment so much as it is a tool for restoration.  True restoration could not happen for the Corinthians without a "time out" to show the community that they were valuable enough to protect.  
  2. Banishment is sometimes necessary.  In this church's situation, they had to at least determine (see how they are progressing through the stages of change?!?) if it was the tool they needed to use in their particular situation.
  3. Even in the midst of suffering, God’s people are given a way to move through the suffering.  They accomplish this by keeping a rigorous eye on thriving.  Thriving is described in Jeremiah 29 as suffering AND continuing the work of building community.  Sometimes building community means protecting community.  

 

Part of our contemplation as a working team involved calming down and remembering our core values; next, we made a conscious choice to live by them.  This required us to practice making amends.  The guy who muttered the “too much estrogen” comment had to make amends not only to the female he poked, but he had to deal with the larger issue of gender bias.  The team then had to identify how their core values would change the way they were processing.  This took FOREVER!  They worked for several meetings just on how to have crucial conversations without decreasing safety in the room.  They had to learn about active listening.  Look, it’s possible to get really old and never acquire these skills.  But this team was willing and ready to learn.  This posture of humility helped them when the time came to analyze the failure of the staff person that caused all this mess to begin with.  Having had their own shortcomings exposed at times during this process, they were a gentler, kinder crew when they got back to tackling the original issue at hand. Are there skills that you lack that you need to go acquire before you can expect to see the fruits of your transformational labors?

What's our part?

Everyone has heard that there is sexual immorality among you.  This is a type of immorality that isn’t even heard of among the Gentiles - a man is having sex with his father’s wife!  And you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2

 

After much rumination and no small amount of people whipping out their seminary teachings, we finally got around to this:  and you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.

 

Here’s what we noticed:

  1. Paul was presuming that the sexual immorality was bad, but he was finding problems in places other than this guy’s bedroom.
  2. Paul is pointing out an attitude problem of those who weren't being appropriately discerning about protecting the community.  They were proud of themselves for keeping someone in the community who was putting the community at risk.  Yes, it's good to seek restoration wherever possible, but we also must be discerning about the well-being of the entire group.  
  3. Paul was inviting the Corinthian church (and we could invite the same of ourselves) to pause and contemplate. 

Here are some things we might contemplate when considering banishment:

  1. Are we more worried about our reputation or the restoration of one who needs restoring?
  2. Is our discussion centered around our core values?  Or are we driven by a fear to protect something - our ministry success?  What’s our motivation driving our thinking on this subject?
  3. What core values are we in danger of violating as we wrestle through this problem if we aren’t careful?
  4. How do we sort through and resolve our competing core values?  Which of our many core values are pertinent in this particular situation?
  5. What wounds/blind spots/prides/prejudices are in play in this room that need acknowledgement?

 

There were more noticings and contemplations, but this provides a general framework for the discussion.  These questions became so intriguing, so challenging, so engaging, that even the Senior Pastor tucked away his ipad and leaned forward into the discussion.  Here’s a wild and crazy idea I want to posit for your pondering:  It is possible, when we sidestep shame, to get very invigorated by the prospect of leaning into change and inviting God to transform us.  It’s exciting!  It’s in keeping with the humanity within us that bears the very image of God.  I’d invite you to consider that shame may be hindering your own enthusiasm for your own work of recovery. 

Sore (but still moving)

The next stage of change is action.  It’s the step we are tempted to jump to when we are feeling all inspired and sincere.  However, our adrenalin for change has a short attention span!  Pre-contemplation, contemplation, and determination are necessary intermediary steps.

 

It’s in those steps where we can settle down and figure out what action best fits our desire for change.  I did not start going to fit camp in order to improve my swimming skills.  We don’t swim in fit camp.  I don’t go to fit camp to become more zen-like, whatever that means.  I go to fit camp to gain strength, stamina and flexibility.  I chose fit camp after six months of illness left me weak and stiff.  I contemplated, researched, and determined before I showed up that first Wednesday morning to get whipped into shape.

 

Action is often the stage that we get most excited about until we actually have to practice it.  Frankly, I like the idea of being strong more than I like practicing my sumo deadlifts.  But this is what change involves - doing things that don’t come natural.  If they did, they probably wouldn’t be something we need to practice or gather a support system to encourage us.

 

I’ve learned from my instructor that meaningful change is more marathon than sprint.  She isn’t happy if I come in complaining of being so sore I can hardly move.  She prefers that we progress incrementally so that we don’t get sidetracked by injury or disheartened by discomfort.  I appreciate the way she thinks.

 

I’ve noticed that people who have managed to make long term meaningful changes in their lives often practice slow, steady, consistent steps toward their goal.  The folks that burst onto the scene like shining stars promising the moon to others often fail to launch.  Today, what is one small sustainable change step you can take? 

Eventually we have to DO something!

Over lunch during the holidays my adult children were discussing a philosopher’s perspective on options.  I was too busy chasing around a 15 month old to hear all the details but evidently there is a philosopher who has posited that limited choices are better for us than feeling like we can do anything we want just because we want it.  It seems too many options freeze us from actually acting on them AND they increase anxiety (Note from the editor:  We were discussing Jean-Paul Sartre- here's a fun Youtube video that talks about what we were talking about:  Click here to view).

 

Pro's and con's were bantered about but I think the philosopher was onto something.  At the pre-contemplation and contemplation stages of change the sky is kind of the limit.  Daydreaming is encouraged.  Pursue all options!  But once we move into the stage of determination, choices must be made in order to move forward into the action stage of change. 

 

A couple times a week I attend an hour long killer fit camp where my favorite instructor in all the world demands in a nice tone that I do things that I am pretty sure will kill me.  It turns out she is better at assessing my abilities than I am.  I’ve worked hard to be consistent in attendance, but I also have a life and that means I am not there 100% of the time. 

 

But if I am going to survive, even thrive, in my training - I have to *&%(^%$ show up!  My trainer, my training team...no one can do the one thing that I must do:  show up.  I do not have to show up with enthusiasm or happy thoughts.  I can show up sore and tired and cranky but show up I must.  I am blessed with an instructor who does not shame us when we show up 80% of the time because she understands how change works and shame is NEVER part of good change theory.

 

However, she has taught us that showing up consistently is kind of a requirement if we want the best of her.  In other words, as good as she is, she cannot give us her best if we are not showing up to receive what she has to offer.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned from watching people and listening to mentors:

Show up. When we work on a team our presence counts not only for ourselves but others. Some things are ours to do, when we don’t do what is ours to do it might mean that someone else doesn’t get to do their thing.

 

For today - show up.  Practicing showing up.  See what happens.

Disappointing Sincerity

I have studied people all my life, not in a creepy way, but with a lot of curiosity and interest.  As a result of wasting so much time people gazing, I have accrued a cache of information about people and myself.  One thing I’ve learned about myself is how little I understand people!

 

When I was young, I used to think that sincerity was the key to an abundant life.  It’s not.  Sincerity has very little correlation with mastering change or receiving the gift of transformation.  I learned this from working with guys from a treatment facility in our community.  The newbies that come through the program show up after detox with the same wild variations in disposition and personality that the rest of the human population possesses.  Some are sincere about getting sober, others are surly and resent the program.  It is completely impossible to pick out which guys will run the distance and which ones will relapse.

 

Sincerity disappoints me more often than not. 

 

But what has worked for people is this more elusive component of change called determinationDetermination is a nice, sturdy word,  but don’t let that fool you.  A person can practice determination with as much creative expression as an artist. 

 

There was this guy who started attending our church while in treatment.  He was not peppy.  He was pitiful.  At 65 years of age he had not been sober in a sustained way since he was 10 years old.  He had no expectations that the program would work, but it was winter and we were in the middle of a particularly cold spell and he was court ordered to attend a program and this was the only one he could afford (free).  He didn’t like the 12-steps or the program director.  He didn’t make friends easily and he was kind of a whiner.  He was constantly living with consequences for misconduct.  But he kept at it.  Today he works a full-time job, owns a home, returns to the treatment facility to volunteer multiple times a week and has acquired a small but faithful bunch of buddies who encourage and support one another in sobriety.  At a public speaking engagement recently he said, “I never even considered that I could one day not live under a bridge.”  He was NOT determined to live a big dream or dare to be great - the world knocked all that out of him at an early age.  But in desperation he followed instructions one day and then two and three until he had amassed a boat load of days - he determined to simply do what it took to stay in a building that also happened to have a recovery program experience.  Determination.  One step at a time.  What do you need to determine to do?

Navel Gazing

The second stage of change is contemplation.  We’re not ready to take action, but we are more serious about considering change.  When my husband and I first started talking about downsizing, it was more like daydreaming than developing a strategic plan.  But the daydreaming was a good beginning.

 

Thanks to our daughter, we had access to information that added substance to our conversations.  No longer were we talking about fantasy living...I want to live at the beach….he wants to live on a golf course…  Instead, we were moved into actual contemplation of change.

 

If we move, we actually have to go to the effort to move out of the house we’re in.  We talked about this with all our adult children, and our youngest responded, “Who will pack up all my childhood memories?”  Ouch.

 

In precontemplation, we don’t think about childhood memories or our neighbors who are our dear friends.  We don’t think about what it would mean to have new neighbors or leave the daily interaction born from over 30 years of proximity and deep, abiding friendship with our neighborhood.

 

In contemplation, we begin to ask questions.  We consider the answers.  Maybe we do a little research, not much really, just a bit.  We talk more about our issue than we actually think about it and we certainly don’t DO anything meaningful.

 

Is there anything you are contemplating changing in your own life?  If so, what could you do to either continue to contemplate OR make the decision that you are not ready to embark on any kind of change regarding this issue? 

 

If we know that about ourselves, maybe we free up space to feel and think and do something about an issue we are ready to tackle.  We eventually chose to renovate our home rather than move.  It was a great decision and we are very pleased.  But part of our contentment with our decision is because we took time to go through the stages of change with purpose and intention.  What do you want to get more intentional about?

Truthful Intentions

Whether I am thinking about change for myself or on behalf of others, it has become a helpful practice for me to identify what stage of change we are in.  My husband and I began talking about downsizing five years ago.  We were NOT ready for a change but we were willing to have a conversation about the what if’s.

 

This stage of change is called pre-contemplation.  Neither of us was particularly serious about downsizing, but it seemed that we were getting to an age where we should at least start the conversational ball rolling.  We daydreamed and discussed, argued and agreed over various pros and cons of making a move.

 

We didn’t actually DO anything. 

 

Our daughter is philosophically opposed to talking without doing so she began to send us links to homes with first floor masters.  Some communities provided all the outside maintenance and lawn care - for a monthly fee of course.  On Sunday afternoons we might go to an open house or sit around on our ipads looking at pictures on Zillow (which, fyi, everything looks better via picture than in person). 

 

Fortunately, our daughter recognized that we were not ready for change.  She did not grow frustrated with us over our lack of enthusiasm for putting our house on the market.  However, her father, my husband tired of our reindeer games and soon was unwilling to look at a picture, much less show up and traipse through an open house.

 

It’s super crucial for us to realize that when any of us are pre-contemplating, that’s all we’re up to - very little doing and no change is involved in this initial first step toward change.  It’s an essential step; this is how change starts!

 

Let’s make this personal.  Are there issues in your own life that you are contemplating - but not ready to address?  That’s ok!  It’s where you are!  But it might help your loved ones to be honest about where you are so that they can adjust their expectations accordingly.  And, if you love and serve folks who need to make changes but who teach you that they are early in the change process - good to know!  It SHOULD impact how you serve them.  For folks who at that first stage of change called pre-contemplation, a listening ear is a wonderful gift.  Someone driving them to distraction with action plans isn’t quite as helpful! 

Habits

I am a big fan of habits.  I habitually brush my teeth.  This is a good thing.  I have tons of habitual behaviors that I do without thinking; they keep my brain from overheating with exertion; habits can be our friend.

 

However, habits can also be our enemy.  I developed a habit of putting this really delicious, silky smooth and loaded with sugar creamer in my coffee.  Yum!  Once I developed the habit of having it, I did not enjoy coffee without it.  It was only when I was given information that inspired me to decrease my sugar intake that the lovely little treat that I so enjoyed became my enemy.  Because I was habituated to it, it had the power to knock my numbers out of alignment before I had even had breakfast, much less eaten three meals and a snack! 

 

Lately I’ve been re-evaluating my habits.  I’ve decided that I want to keep the ones that support my core values but relinquish some that are inconsistent with my values.  Coffee with a creamer that doesn’t fit my nutritional objectives has to go.  I will miss her.

 

When I began my journey of eating realignment, I needed education, accountability, support and incentives.  Habits don’t just disappear when we wish them gone!  I understand that we do better with change when we replace habits, plan for change, and develop a patience for taking steady next right steps toward our goal.  Grandiose thinking and change are not great partners. 

 

For today, consider what you would like to change in your world.  Tomorrow we will consider change and how it works.

 

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?