Challenge Self-Defeating Thoughts

I was really shocked to discover that my thoughts are not always true and my feelings are not always the best gauge of my life situation. I spent decades assuming that my thoughts and feelings were pointing me to my “truth”. I was wrong. Here are some common inaccurate thoughts:

* I cannot cope with ______ unless I use/do/have _________.

* When I ______, I am more creative and productive.

* My friends would not like me if they knew the real me.

* I cannot relax/sleep/function without _____.

* I know that I have missed some family functions but kids are resilient, they will get over it.

* I am not hurting anyone but myself.

* My loved ones just do not understand.

* I can stop ________ whenever I want. I plan on changing when life settles down.

It is possible that our life is unsatisfactory because we are living with unaddressed, inaccurate, and self-defeating thoughts. Compulsive thoughts create heightened anxiety and depression. It is crucial to realize that we are unaware that our thinking is distorted. We will need to look outside our mind palace for answers that are fundamentally beyond our brain’s capacity to grasp without outside intervention.

Don’t assume that you know it all.

Run to God! Run from evil!

Your body will glow with health,

your very bones will vibrate with life!

~ Proverbs 3:7-8, The Message

I like to ask myself the following question on a daily basis: what if I am wrong about _______? As I discover that I am wrong, I find new opportunities to change, seek help, and walk humbly with my God and others! Try it! It is so much easier than having to be right and strong all the time!

What’s Your Plan for Happiness?

Father Thomas Keating wrote about strategies for living. He called his a plan for happiness - which, to be clear, he knew was no real plan at all. His point was this is how we think, not how life works. He believed that most of us look for happiness in the following ways:

* We believe we need power and control to find happiness.

* We believe we need affection and esteem to find happiness.

* We believe we need security to survive and without it there is no hope for happiness.

Keating would NOT have taken his theory too far. I think he would have agreed that we all need to take responsibility for our life choices, that we are created for loving relationships, and that we need a certain level of security in life to thrive. It is hard to be homeless. It is brutal to be poor and without access to basic life necessities.

But Father Keating challenges us to think about our compulsions, our drives. Taken too far they feed our vulnerabilities to particular falsehoods that hinder our growth. If we cannot find a reasonable way to manage life, we are all vulnerable to developing compulsive ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can lead to a dependency of some kind. Many times we become obsessed with chasing happiness.

Scripture gives us a different frame of reference. It offers the promise of a God who is crazy about us and offers dire warnings of how our forgetfulness or misunderstandings about the nature of God, ourselves and others can get us in trouble. Here is a scriptural warning that aligns with the false identity notion of Henri Nouwen and the misguided plan for happiness as described by Father Keating.

Understand that the last days will be dangerous times. People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 CEB

When Weakness is Empowering

In recent years, criticism has been directed toward mutual aid societies that practice the 12 steps. In particular, they find fault with first step’s phrase “we were powerless over…”. Critics say that this perspective is wrong, too negative and needs to be replaced with the concept of empowerment.

Here is what I know to be true for me: it was really hard to quit using what my brain thought it needed to survive. Willpower is overrated and was ineffective for me when I was struggling with compulsive behaviors that turned into a physiological dependency.

This is what powerless means to me: There is something in my life that is so powerful, cunning and baffling that I am unable to comprehend that this thing that I think is making me powerful and in control is actually killing me. IN SPITE OF MUCH EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, I am unable to see the writing on the wall and read its message. At the worst of my using, I was absolutely completely powerless over the denial and self-deceit that served as sentries, blocking the obvious truth that I was dying. Both served at the pleasure of my survival instincts, which were compromised and confused as a result of my eating disorder.

However, none of this made me a powerless person; it did mean I was powerless over the effects my Substance Use Disorder was having on my capacity to reason. In fact, the recovery process teaches me how to take responsibility for my recovery. It has EMPOWERED me by giving me a new, inspired way of seeing God, myself and others. It has provided me tools to manage the issues that drove my substance use. It has given me the support I needed as I regained my footing and found my capacity for taking the next right step.

If you are fretting over the word “powerless,” maybe it is because, to you, like me, the word feels shaming. Who wants to be powerless? Instead, consider it as an acknowledgement that you have figured out that your willpower and good intentions are not enough to treat what ails you.

For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (b) NIV

The Habit of Substance Use

Once my brother came clean it about his Substance Use Disorder, it became apparent that ALL of us were suffering with dependencies that were creating one unmanageable crisis after another. A dependency, or a compulsion, is a coping strategy that we use to calm, numb, or benefit ourselves in ways that we use to excess. We are in “excess” when our behaviors begin to have consequences. Too restless, irritable and discontent to get out of bed in the morning and go to work? I may be using sleeping in EXCESS to cope with my depression, hangover, or have a disturbed sleep cycle - a host of possibilities but all related to this one true thing: our “excess” is disrupting our life.

My brother’s cocaine addiction, unlike my own eating disorder, caused him to break out in handcuffs, lose jobs, and generally manage to infuriate anyone who tried to maintain a relationship with him. He lied, he cheated, he stole. I lied in ways that were equally damaging but a teeny tiny bit less obvious than his dramatic crash and burns. In fact, his own propensity to get into massive amounts of trouble served to mask the dysfunction of our family system in general and in particular our individual issues.

The crisis created by my brother’s treatment for drug addiction provided an opportunity for our family to take time to assess the dynamics at play in our family system. Problems that seemed obvious to others about our family were revelations to us. Secrets were exposed. My eating disorder was named. The rigid roles that each family member played, the enabling, the lying, a lot of these realities rose to our collective consciousness. (Again, this was not everyone’s perspective.) Suddenly, what we thought of as normal shifted. We realized how unmanageable our lives were - the conflicts, the financial strain of dealing with my brother’s issues, the unhealthy ways my parents coped with their stress, the resentments we held against one another but never discussed. We were taught that all of this was related to the disease of addiction. It was a multi-generational problem. Both the affliction and the maladaptive coping skills associated with addiction were passed down through our family tree much like the family silver and a few pieces of good jewelry. When we take our first step the focus rightfully belongs on our own particular brand of compulsivity. But it is also helpful to realize that when one family member suffers from Substance Use Disorder, the entire family system is also suffering various forms of sickness marked by denial, unmanageability, powerlessness and resistance to solving problems.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Romans 7:17-20 The Message

Compulsivity is a problem

Stereotypes are naughty; they are a way we over-simplify and try to find patterns to understand our world. Our brain loves patterns; it craves understanding. If it can find a pattern, it can go into lazy mode. Ever driven from home to the gym only to arrive and remember not a single thing about the drive? That’s your brain remembering a pattern. How often have you started out for the grocery store and ended up at a craft store? Clearly, we are going to the craft store more often than Kroger’s. Auto pilot. This tendency to develop habits and predict patterns can get ugly if it turns into a compulsion. A compulsion can turn into a dependency.

My brother’s Substance Use Disorder was as simple and as complicated as anyone else who struggles with this disease. Our understanding of it shifted over the years, often in sync with our collective cultural awakening to the nature of the affliction. Today, the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders) characterizes Substance Use Disorder as a “Recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs that causes clinically and functionally-significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home.”

Whatever we “use” compulsively eventually turns on us; it never delivers on its promise to make us feel “normal” or “happy” or “capable.” This is the human condition - we search for shortcuts that we hope will fulfill us. This affliction is physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual in nature. All elements of our body, mind and spirit are impacted by the disorder.

My people are broken—shattered!—and they put on Band-Aids, saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’ But things are not ‘just fine’! Jeremiah 6:14 The Message

Today, consider your habits. Really think about it. Things you say habitually without really thinking about your words? Like assuming a group of people are all alike? Habitual ways you think about yourself - often negative but sometimes too positive as well? Your brain can get too hooked into your patterns; for this work, consider your heart.