Patterned Interactions: Part III

Finally. This group is neither interested in getting other folks to approve of them or assert themselves in the lives of others. This group appreciates an independent viewpoint and inward focus.

They retreat into themselves and rely on their own strength to get through challenges. They sometimes lack confidence that they can make a difference and may search for solutions but fail to take action on what they learn. They are detached. They can sound condescending when talking to others. Their inner anxiety and vague suspiciousness makes them self-protective. They over-analyze. Although they are perceptive, their need to isolate is a problem. One word description? Withdrawn.

Of course, Substance Use Disorder and other life problems can turn passive people aggressive; quiet people loud; loud people silent; aggressive folks catatonic. BUT before we started developing habitual, mostly unconscious ways of reacting to the world, each of us had a favorite way of relating: aggressive, withdrawn or ambivalent, or dependent on others. Our patterns precede our using or dysfunctions, so we will explore those deep-rooted preferences before we get further into the weeds of our inventory!

As you review your list of chronological feelings and your reactions, look for the pattern that most fitsyou. Remember - think of your way of being before you started using:

1. Do you move against people? Have some people told you that you were too aggressive?

2. Do you move toward people? Are you eager for approval? Do you care A LOT about other

people’s opinion of you?

3. Do you move away from people? Do people stress you out? Do you spend a lot of time in

your head?

As you can imagine, each one of these styles has both unique vulnerabilities and strengths associated with them. Give that some thought and journal about your ideas on the subject.

Patterned Interactions: Part II

Many people do not like taking an aggressive stance toward others. This second group is sociable and turns to others for reassurance and support. They would not be comfortable moving ‘against’ people or withdrawing from people. They are a collaborative bunch and lean into relationships.

They study the reactions of others because they have a strong need for acceptance. They lose their own perspective and forget the consequences for their own future in the pursuit of the approval of others.

Internally they are insecure and get stuck in a cycle of feelings of insecurity and neediness. They undervalue themselves and avoid self-reflection. This need for affirmation can cause them to lose sight of their inner value to live responsibly and value others. One word description? Ambivalent. Another descriptor? Dependent. Don’t let this word confuse you - they are not needy or weak in the classical sense of the word. Sometimes they are downright feisty. But what they are deeply committed to is looking outside themselves for confirmation that their ideas are not stupid and that they are not crazy.

Patterned Interactions: Part I

As we look for patterns, it will help us to understand that we have a patterned way of interacting with the world too. The next three days we will explore three different ways we primarily relate to the world around us. Here is option one:

This group focuses on results. They love getting things done. They thrive on doing!

They are comfortable with assertiveness and can express themselves; they are comfortable with anger. Others often feel that this group is intimidating or is personally against them.

Despite their aggressive ways, they fear not being loved or failing. They are future focused. They like stirring the pot and making things happen. At their best, they are creative, productive and positive. But in weakness they are insensitive to the needs and feelings of others, which hurts their intimate relationships. Imagine this group impaired and losing their creative mojo and capacity to succeed! One word description? Aggressive.

Do people ever tell you that you are too pushy? Too intimidating? Have you ever had to reel yourself in for the sake of getting along? You just might be a person who is comfortable moving against people you think get in your way.

Notice, as you look at your patterns, if this is true for you. Remember, this is not a bad thing. It is just a thing.

Not you? Tomorrow we will look at a different way of being in the world.

Stop telling yourself things that aren't true

It turns out that some people habitually tell themselves things that are not true. They develop a patterned way of thinking about themselves - and the brain rewards them with a shot of dopamine for their lack of effort to wrestle with the truth.

I know a gal who is always telling me how stupid she is - and she is not stupid at all. I have a girlfriend who is always complaining about how fat she is - and of course, she is not fat at all. Moan and groan. Complain, complain.

Healthy people learn how to stop doing this nonsense and require their brains to get up off the porch and get to work. They do NOT blame themselves for everything that goes wrong in their life or rely on the distorted belief that they are ineffective and unable to do hard things. Healthy people learn how to suffer and live through hardships. They learn that life is hard without having to further confuse the lesson by pretending it should be easy.

People who struggle to cope often contribute to the problem by confusing their suffering with their worth. Do NOT confuse your suffering with your worth. Job is a really strange book in the bible; I am fascinated by all the patterns and myths it busts in the telling of the Job story. He is a good man who suffers for no clear reason. Job is a guy who can teach us that good things happen to good and bad people and bad things happen to good and bad people. Our circumstances, outcomes, and actions are no measure of our worth.

We are so used to taking the cheap hit of dopamine rather than examining our thoughts. Try to do more examining and less automatic assuming, OK?

We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.

~ 2 Corinthians 10:6, The Message

Resisting New Patterns

…What if I become something I don’t like, what if I become one of those people that I never want to be, whatever that might look like… I am willing to take the risk at the thought that maybe it is better than what I am…

~From the video series By the Book. Click here to view.

If we have ever felt the need to make a change, in order to actually accomplish a life realignment, I have news….IT WILL REQUIRE ACTUAL CHANGE. And it turns out that our brains hate change. Our brains love habits and patterns. Habits reduce the energy it needs to produce to do what our body is asking it to accomplish. When I walk, I do not have to think about how to walk. I’ve practiced walking so long that I just do it. Meanwhile, my brain can go smoke a cigar and sit on the porch rocking away in contented abandon to thought or action. My granddaughter is not at the stage where her brain can smoke and rock while she walks. She has to concentrate. She has the tiniest, cutest little feet ever. She isn’t tall either, but the girl is solid. When she walks, she spreads her legs wide to maintain balance. She works so much harder to walk than I do. She takes long naps in response to her walks. I can walk for hours and not grow weary.

When our brains identify a pattern, it rewards us for this identification with a shot of dopamine. This feels good. Is the brain just over-producing dopamine and doing a dopamine dump to rid it of excess? No! It is rewarding us for identifying a pattern, because patterns, once learned, allow the brain to rest. Here is the really interesting fact - the brain does not care if we have correctly identified a pattern. The brain doesn’t care how well I walk, so long as I walk well enough to do so without conscious thought.

Does the brain like change? No! If you do not like the way your life is shaping up, you are going to need to override your brain’s desire to smoke and sit on the porch. You might need more naps. I’m totally serious - change is stressful. But it may be necessary in order for us to live the life that brings us peace. Are you ready and willing?

…I don’t know what is hurting me and what is helping me... I don’t know about any of it, not just the using but all these other things in my life. I’ll just say here’s the whole deal, I’m willing to let all of it be changed by this process…

~From the video series By the Book. Click here to view.

Habits can fool us

“Addicts must learn to handle cravings, attend 12-Step meetings regularly, and otherwise revamp their thinking, behavior, and lifestyle...Addiction is not an ‘acute’ (short-term) illness with a short-term solution. Like diabetes, asthma, and other chronic diseases, addiction can be controlled but never eliminated.”[1]

“I kept looking back at the other option and there was no other option.”

By the Book [2]

Maybe you think you are off the hook because you are not dependent on alcohol or drugs. Are you dependent on anyone or anything else that has its hooks in you? Habitual compulsions can have the same effect on us. They can trick us into thinking they are the solution even as they keep causing us lots of problems.

Spending more money than we have may be fun when we are buying a cute pair of shoes, but does it cause conflict in your home? Do you have debt-collectors knocking on your door? This is not a way to live!

Caring more about your sport’s team than your friends who root for other teams isn’t cool.

Distracting ourselves with binge watching, binge eating, binge exercising, binge anything may numb us temporarily from our cares and worries, but all those anxieties are just sitting on the foot of our bed waiting for us to wake up.

Eventually, we need to figure out how to not only deal with our problems, but live well in spite of them. The solutions that work for Substance Abuse often hold the key to our own peace of mind!

  1. Harold C. Urshel, III MD, (Healing the Addicted Brain, Sourcebooks Inc., 2009), pp. 23-25.

  2. at 2:12.

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


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. 

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 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?


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.


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?