Change requires practice

Shifting our focus from always having to be right toward a commitment to “get it right” is one of my favorite concepts that Brene Brown hammers home in her book Dare to Lead. This compulsion to know all the answers and be right all the time is a heavy burden. Lay it down!

Getting it right is a whole different ball game. When we work to “get it right” it makes us curious - we can ask, how can I improve? It creates an atmosphere of humility. We can assume that we have more to learn. We can think of ourselves as scientists running our own customized experiments. “Getting it right” implies process. It promises improvement without demanding perfection. It provides direction when we’ve lost our way without the need to blame or defend ourselves for the confusion.

After a terrible six month stretch of sickness I found a trainer to help me get strong because I was feeling so very weak. (The bear in the woods example came to my mind often in those days.) My trainer knows more about how to customize fitness to my particular brand of weakness than I could have ever imagined. Over a year into the process, I see progress. My “get up” form is decent. I can press a 20 pound Kettlebell with each arm for multiple reps. I can hold the plank position for longer than I thought possible. I practice my deadlifts several times a week and am making decent progress with my weight progression. I am getting stronger.

But in each of the above exercises, every single week, my trainer finds something to correct and improve in terms of my form or my degree of weight difficulty. Just today we worked extensively on repositioning my arm just a few little inches during a particular exercise. Without her, I would not be this particular. But without her, I would also not be making progress.

What do you need to change? Who can help you practice changing? Today I receive comfort and joy as I surrender to the process of being a willing student and active participant in my own recovery. I could not do it without a great coach. What kind of coaching might you benefit from?

Rest battles fantasy living

Once a year Pete and I try to get away for a week or two. It’s not a vacation so much as it is a retreat. We go to the same place every year. The environment is beautiful and predictable. We rent a friend’s house and there is little access to our traditional numbing distractions. We cannot work; we cannot eat food for convenience sake (i.e. fast food that is not as healthy as other choices); we cannot get distracted with the news or sporting events or lifetime movies.

We bring nutritious foods and eat in. Exercising on paddle boards and kayaks, hiking up and down the mountain to the lake’s dock and setting up a portable gym in the basement - it’s so much fun AND offers comfort and joy that is pure gold. We read. We rest. We play games. Pete says that watching the clouds float across the sky is as close to pure peace as he ever gets. I agree.

Because of what we learned at the lake, we have begun to institute comfort and joy rituals at home too. We play board games at night after dinner. We go for a walk together. We read. We find pockets of time to rest - something we rarely gave ourselves permission for in the past. Our old way of thinking about change did not include dollops of comfort and joy. Perhaps that is why we were so frustrated by our lack of meaningful change!!

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

~ Psalm 91:1-2 NIV

Comfort and Joy

We misidentify comfort and joy. That’s a problem. This is easy enough to understand when we think about a kid who has an opioid problem and is laying on a gurney in the ER. Shouldn’t this problem be obvious? I’ve been in more than one ER with someone revived by Naloxone whose first words are a complaint: “Hey, who ripped my favorite jeans? Don’t you dare call my parents! Is my friend here? I gotta get out of here!!”

“Whaaat? You almost died dude!” I say this because I think the using is the problem. This person, knocked into sudden withdrawal by a life-saving dose of Naloxone identifies a different problem: he thinks he needs more drugs to feel normal.

Let me step on toes a bit. Booze to take the edge off; food; binge-watching TV; scrolling through facebook - these are also a form of opioid. Although they will not kill us quickly like an opioid OD will, they do diminish our experience of living. The behaviors are not the problem; the problem is what we are hoping the behavior will accomplish. Dependencies do not offer genuine comfort and joy. They distract and numb. But we THINK they are comforting us, maybe even bringing us joy. Or else we wouldn’t choose those behaviors to depend on.

Want to change? Start by paying attention. What are your false comforts and adrenalin-laced joys?

When meetings are "too sad"

I sound like a broken record. This is a fact. Consistently I suggest to families struggling with a variety of ailments to GET HELP. What kind of help? Therapy, support groups, education, practice boundaries and spiritual disciplines. I am not only a broken record, but my song is LONG. And people do not like it.

I suppose that is why the local pill doctor is wildly popular while folks in recovery programs at various times struggle to hang in and show up.

It turns out we all tend to resist the very thing we need the most. As we resist what we need, our resentment and anxiety ratchets up. We were created to live in community, learn things, practice boundaries and spiritual disciplines. We don’t “run” so well fueled by fantasy living, denial, and resistance to change.

In AA they talk about how we all want a softer, gentler way. The softer, gentler way doesn’t build muscles, it just makes us flabby.

Let me appeal to your anxiety, foreboding joy, and competitive spirit. In a crisis, the survivors are the ones who have the skills, the muscles, and the strength of character to persevere. Our endless quest for no pain with a side order of soft and gentle is not going to serve us well. If we are with a group of people in the woods and we happen upon a bear, who survives? Certainly not the softest, slowest delectable morsel in the group. You may not need to be an Olympic athlete to get away from that bear, but you darn well better be faster than the slowest person in your party.

Meetings can indeed be sad, as I am told on occasion by those who really do not want to attend them. Attenders sometimes hear sad stories of loss, relapse, and hopelessness. But you also hear, as I did last Thursday night in our Family Education meeting, a small but sturdy chorus of voices who are able to say that their loved one is in long term recovery. The family’s presence bears witness to the family’s recovery also.

If we want transformation, we do not need to be perfect. But we do need to notice how our resentments and anxieties sometimes trip us up, causing us to resist the work that opens the door to change and transformation.

When we notice numbing behaviors, start asking: where am I resentful? What am I anxious about? Hang in with the answer. Ride the wave of discomfort.

Somebody is avoiding the truth

When my grandson does something he KNOWS is not preferred, he has a clever way of reframing the issue. Here are some samples of his work:

“SOMEBODY is going upstairs.” [Christian is only allowed to go upstairs with an adult.]

“SOMEBODY spilled their yemonade on their pants.” [Christian is practicing drinking lemonade with a straw. It’s messy. He isn’t a fan of messy.]

“SOMEBODY threw their firetruck.” [We are learning to not throw our toys.]

“SOMEBODY needs to go see Pops.” [Even though Pops is on a conference call and is off-limits.]

The list goes on.

Our response, “Which somebody?” Big pause. Bashful grin. Avoidance. The adults wait patiently for a response.

Eventually, he says, “Christian Thomas…”

Why is it important that we not chuckle over SOMEBODY? Even though, come on, it is hilarious, right?

Because this will only be funny until it is a habit he cannot break when he is 40 and his marriage is on the rocks because he cannot own his stuff. {See foreboding joy.}

Change is hard enough without having to fight our own insecurity. Making mistakes is part of the process. Some of us hate that more than others, but all of us need to make mistakes in order to learn.

We do not shame Christian over SOMEBODY; but we do give him the opportunity to get it right. That’s a skill that we all need. We need to be able to practice being teachable, learning, and trying until we get it good enough.

Has stubbornness gotten in SOMEBODY’S way lately?

Numbness and Fantasy Living

The most effective way I know of to stay the same is to either stay numb or commit to fantasy living. If we want to avoid change, these are two guaranteed ways to succeed. Numbing can be anything - too many Lifetime movie binges rather than actually participating in life is one way.

Since we are fortunate enough to have grandchildren this year, I was happy when the clan decided to go to a Christmas tree lighting in our neighborhood. They are so much fun when you watch them acted out in a Christmas movie.

In our situation, we had to wait almost an hour for a table at the restaurant where we were going to eat before walking to the tree lighting. It was bitterly cold out, and the marshmallow roast looked like risky business for a two year old (Can you say foreboding joy?). The hot chocolate stand was over-crowded and under-prepared for demand. The tree lighting itself was preceded by a series of song and dance routines - which I enjoyed, but the babies did not. Half the group left before the tree sparkled and those of us that waited were underwhelmed by the lights. If we want spectacular, the television was the way to go.

But we did not want spectacular. We wanted experience. Together. As a family. And if that’s what we wanted, then there was joy. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We talked, we laughed, we fed a baby and listened to a toddler yell, “Where’s my cheese quesadilla?” Pete even got confused and went into the women’s restroom instead of the men’s. You cannot find that on the Hallmark Channel.

This is life on life’s terms. It’s all we have and it is more than we could hope for - so long as we are not numbing and not pretending.

How has fantasy living messed with your reality?

When has numbing caused you to under-react to a problem in search of a solution?

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV

Stubborn Hope

Hope is not a Hallmark card sentiment for me.  

It is often a fight to the finish.  The battle is between my stinking thinking and the discipline to believe that if God is who He says He is.  When I practice this disciplined way of seeing and being in the world, I have an inspired way of seeing that ALWAYS allows for the possibility of hope - regardless of my circumstances.

Hope is also realistic.  It believes in miracles AND it accepts reality.  When our dearly beloved friend Will was diagnosed with cancer I hoped for a miracle AND I paid attention to what the doctor and Will were teaching me about his condition.  I so wanted the miracle, but I did not indulge in fantasy living - because that is not genuine hope.

Hope can bear the weight of reality and still be hope.  In 2 Samuel 14:14, it says this:  

We all have to die - we’re like water spilled out on the ground that can’t be gathered up again.  

This in no way gives information about the exact date and time of any of our departures.  But it teaches us a limit to our humanity - we are all mortals.  We will all die at some time.  This is a reality limit that must be factored into my hope.

It goes on like this:  But God doesn’t take life away

I didn’t have to spend any energy wondering if God was taking Will (or any of the other folks we have loved and lost in our community over the past 20 years) because he needed another angel, or to pay for a crime he or someone else committed or to punish someone so that they might repent or to teach others a lesson at Will’s expense.  God doesn’t take life away.  Life is finite.  

Furthermore, instead, he makes plans so those banished from him don’t stay that way.

A parent of another young adult who passed away recently is lamenting her daughter’s “lack of faith”; she is obsessively worrying over this thought that her daughter’s addiction “stole her child’s faith”; this is yet one more thing she regrets and blames herself for.

Someday soon I pray there will be a moment when she can see and hear 2 Samuel 14:14 for what it is - a small but powerful insight into how God loves us.  He makes plans for restoration.  This is hopeful.  How he does it, what it looks like, I do not know.  But any situation that I am tempted to wilt over is an invitation for me to remember this:  we all have to die, but God doesn’t take life away, instead he makes plans so those banished from him don’t stay that way.

Hope is a choice; a spiritual discipline; a partner of reality; a gift from God.

Learning to Be Realistic

My lunch date that I referred to in earlier posts felt like a failure on every level.  Instead of trying to jolly her out of her failure mentality I asked her to go home and list all her failures in a notebook and bring them to me in a few days.  She readily agreed to this exercise in shaming because her brain constantly recounted these failures to her all day and night long.  I understood intuitively that if I had asked her to list her successes she would have acquiesced in the moment but I would have never seen her again.

Instead, she showed up with her notebook ready for me to acknowledge that indeed, she was a complete failure.  But here’s the thing that was so predictable and striking about her list.  Pretty much everything on her list was an item she NEVER IN A MILLION KAZILLION YEARS HAVE EVER SUCCEEDED AT!

Sample failings:
1.  I could not get my brother to stop using drugs.
2. I failed at protecting my siblings from my father’s abuse. (She was the youngest child.)
3. I failed to make my mother love me.
4. I have failed to ever have a normal, happy holiday event where my entire family gathered in peace.
See what she did there?  These are all things that are beyond her control.  But the tricky thing about an unhealthy family is members are often made to feel responsible without any authority or right to actually change anything!

Currently she is working on the following perspective shifts:
1. Change is a process not a crisis reaction.  
2. Process takes time.
3. Mistakes are inevitable.
4. Not all mistakes are mine to own.
5. Goals must be realistic and within the realm of my responsibility.
6. Some things are impossible to achieve without the support of all parties.
7. Resiliency and skills like perseverance are only useful if the objective is realistic.


Any of this sound familiar to you and yours?