Chipping Away Your Mask

When my brother entered treatment, my parents were less than enthusiastic. Once they learned that a “family weekend” was part of the package they were downright hostile. They attended anyway, dragging their bad attitude along with them like a security blanket.

By the time our family had access to treatment, we had all become adept at wearing masks and playing predictable roles in our family system. In hindsight, I suspect these various roles helped us cope and enabled us to survive. The chaos and conflict that active addiction caused in our family did not leave much room for creativity, collaboration, and addressing the needs and wants of the entire family as they arose. Our rigid roles enabled us to think and feel less. Our roles served as a means of energy conservation so that we had what we needed to fight and fume and blame and berate one another.

“Mask” is a Greek word that means “engraving in a stone” and that accurately summed up how I felt. I was stone cold. Furious. Enraged. Embarrassed. Frustrated. Ashamed. And fake. Recovery is the spiritual process of chipping away at our defense mechanisms while building up our capacity for honesty, coping, and living out our life’s purpose. It is hard intensive work; it is art; it is a sacred journey. This is not unlike the work God promises to do with us, shaping and molding us.

Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you… Jeremiah 18, selected verses from The Message

As I worked my recovery program, I felt conflicted, resistant even, to this idea of God “working on me”. I trusted no one including God. But desperate times called for desperate measures and slowly, gradually, I began to trust others to help me. Decades in, I can see how the early masks and armor that my family wore to cope with our family issues contributed to my reluctance to trust and contributed to my own issues. Sometimes the hardest part of growing up for me is trusting that there are different ways of living than what I learned as a child.

How about you? What do struggle with?

Over-working does not equal commitment

Our worth is totally unrelated to our productivity. This is a well-kept secret. There is plenty of research out in the world that teaches us that workaholics are less productive and creative than their counterparts - people who have boundaries. In spite of the fact that we know that lack of sleep impacts our physical health, increases the likelihood of accidents, etc., it is still considered a bit of a status symbol to complain about how busy we are.

Our temptation when setting goals and desiring change is to work harder. But oftentimes we are doing the wrong work!! What we need is time to play!

Need more creativity to solve serious problems at work? Go play.

Desire more joy in your life? Go outside and play.

Wish you had better interpersonal skills and more healthy relationships? Go play.

It turns out that playtime does all sorts of amazing things to the brain. It also helps it calm down and recover after periods of stress. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play has been quoted as saying, “The opposite of play is not work - the opposite of play is depression.”

If you are resolved to change something, make sure you book in playtime. Whatever your goal, taking breaks by playing will help you achieve them.