Banishing Shame

In 2019 Danielle Collins stormed onto the women’s tennis scene at the Australian Open. Having never won a match in a major, she made it to the semi-finals where she lost to P. Kvitová in two sets. Commentators did not know what to make of her brash confidence. When asked about her strategy of play against her next opponent, she replied, “I will just keep on playing awesome tennis!”

Fellow tennis geeks spoke with me in conspiratorial tones... “I am not sure I like her. I think she might be a little ‘too much’.”

Reporters said that her fellow tennis stars were ambivalent about her brash personality. Did she fit in? Was she worthy? Maybe not they implied. She learned to play tennis on public courts not in pricey private clubs. She is a college graduate from the University of Virginia (a rarity among tennis professionals). She readily admits that her game was not good enough to enter the tour earlier and she credits her college coaches with improving her game. Her teammates say that the Danielle Collins of the Australian Open 2019 is the exact girl they have known all along. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She would have LOVED to be a phenom at 14 but she admitted she needed help to improve and took herself off to college to get what she needed.

This gal could walk around with massive doses of shame - how can we ever know about another person’s self assessment? But her actions and words indicate that she believes in herself and she shows no interest in asking any of us to do that work for her.

Shame “all shucks” us. It demands that we take no credit for our strengths and beats us up for our weaknesses. Danielle’s story at a minimum shows us that if we are honest about what we need and willing to ask for help in getting it, good things, unexpected things - can happen.

The Impact of Family Drama

Over the course of our lifetime all four siblings in my family have had an opportunity to explore the wreckage of our past. Each of us have reached various conclusions about our family system of origin - not all of them are in sync. Most of us experienced seismic changes in our understanding of our childhoods as a result of self-reflection. One of my brothers believed that our childhood was one adventure after another - he had to wrestle with his idealism. It was not all fun and games but he had forgotten chunks of life at our house.

I experienced my childhood as traumatic in ways that defined me and encoded all my memories as such. But when we found some old family movies that recorded happier times, I had to rethink my perspective. I remembered these times once they showed up on film. I realized that my memories were skewed; I needed to re-remember. It was NOT all trauma.

The only reason any of us entered therapy, treatment and/or recovery was because we were forced to admit that our adulting was not working. We were wrecking things all on our own without any help from others - thank you very much. It took intervention and outside resources for us to stop the insanity of living with great certainty and few insights about our lives. We had grown up but not through our past. The baggage of our youth was cluttering up the floor of our adulthood and we kept tripping over it. Something had to give! Recovery asks us to believe that God has the power to restore us to sanity - we can learn how to stop thinking, feeling and doing the same things over and over that keeping resulting in negative results.

My family and I did not end up with the same assessments of our collective growing up experiences. But each of us did what we have both the right and responsibility to do: We are living our lives in the way we believe best fits our core values. It is not easy; it is not without conflict. But it is what families do!

Meditation Moment- Salutation of the Dawn

Blessed with the experience of others who have walked this path of recovery we often find common ground in prayers, poems and meditations that have been helpful to others. Their experience can guide us. This poem is an adaptation of a poem “Salutation of the Dawn”, author unknown:

Look to this day! [Pause and observe the day you are in.]

For it is life, the very life of life. [Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for your precious life.]

In its brief course [Acknowledge that you have much to learn.]

Lie all the verities and realities of your existence: [Life offers many experiences; focus on one gratitude.]

The bliss of growth; [Thank God for your restoration.]

The glory of action; [Commit to do one next right step today.]

The splendor of achievement; [Ponder one right thing you did yesterday and give thanks.]

For yesterday is but a dream, [Commit to letting go.]

And tomorrow is only a vision; [Choose to not fret about future events.]

But today, well lived, makes every yesterday [Consider your day and choose to embrace it.]

a dream of happiness, [Happiness is possible. Look for it.]

And every tomorrow a vision of hope. [Find one thing to appreciate about your future.]

Finding a Way Through Suffering

My friend and I met for coffee to discuss an upsetting event. She made a mistake that could have resulted in tragedy but did not. However, the incident did point out a shortcoming or two of hers that resulted in experiencing some painful consequences.

She was distraught. She was ashamed of her mistake; she was angry that her efforts to correct her error did not result in the immediate suspension of her consequences; she was thrown into recovery chaos. As an experienced practitioner of the 12 Step way, she had some awesome tools and the wisdom to use them.

“I realized that I kept saying to myself - God is punishing me for being a stupid, stupid, little girl.” These are lies and she knew it, but her mind kept repeating the thought.

Upon reflection, with the support of her team, she investigated and could not find definitive support for these habitual thoughts. She made a mistake and it was hers to own. She is not stupid - in fact, she is quite brilliant and that is objectively provable. She is neither little or a girl. She is a grown up woman. She is not immune from natural consequences.

As she reviewed her thoughts and feelings, she found a way through her suffering. She believed that restoration was possible which got her curious. How might restoration work? Her experience helped her figure that out. She rejected her habitual way of lamenting and replaced that with different thoughts - I am a woman who made a mistake; I am capable of changing; I can take responsibility for my part in this and trust that God will restore me in the process. Energized with this more hopeful perspective, she got busy and did a host of things in a sincere effort to right her past wrongs.

They cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for me, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

~ Psalm 107:13-16 NIV

My friend rocks.

Meditation Moment- Set Aside Prayer

Within mutual aid societies there is a popular prayer called the “set aside” prayer. Start of your day with this:

“Dear God, please help me to set aside everything I think I know about my beliefs, God and myself, so I may have an open mind and a new experience. Please help me to see the truth about God’s power, my insanity and the promise for my restoration.”

Figuring Out How God Works

I was once in a car accident, hit by a young man who was driving on a suspended license for a plethora of citations as a result of his bad driving. What did he say as he exited his smashed vehicle? “Why does God keep doing this stuff to me?”

In contrast to George Costanza’s and this young man’s opinion of God, there are others who believe that God is only in the good things (as defined by us). Have you ever seen a player on the losing end of a Super Bowl matchup saying, “I just want to thank my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for this loss?” No. Because big game winners profess belief that God is in our big wins. No mention of him in the losses - unless you are George Costanza. Or that kid who totaled my car.

What we are asked to “come to believe” in the second step of the Twelve Steps - and one reason I love them - is that God is powerful. We are not asked to figure out how God works in every situation. Our distortions about how we believe God uses his power may complicate our acceptance of his power.

Can we start there? God is powerful.

Finding God in the Good and Bad Things

The classic television series Seinfield has a character named George Costanza who has a few things to say about believing in God and telling ourselves the truth. (You can find this segment on youtube by going to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOCKuyFFWo4.)

Says George, “God would never let me be successful. He would kill me first. He will never let me be anything.”

Female listener incredulously responds, “I thought you didn’t believe in God!”

George, “I do for the bad things.” I think many of us DO believe in God only for the bad things. The second step invites us to reconsider our beliefs. Does a thorough study of the God of George’s understanding support his belief that God is only in the “bad things” (as defined by George)? Only George can say; but George owes it to himself to fact check himself.

What do you believe God for?

Meditation Moment- Ezekiel 11:19 NIV

I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 11:19 NIV

Take a few minutes and imagine that God is patiently waiting to remove your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. The flesh feels more - more joy, more pain. But it also fits perfectly and connects your body, mind and spirit.

Fighting Gravity

My granddaughter does not believe in gravity. She sits in her high chair, leans over and stares at the ground. She drops her pacifier over the edge of her chair. Her weary parents eventually tire of the game of retrieval. Sadly, neither one of them possess the labrador gene that carries with it a love for fetching. On the umpteenth toss her parental units allow the pacifier to succumb to gravity. She looks startled; she frowns; she wails. She stares at both the object of her affection and her parents as if they have betrayed her. Why won’t her pacifier return to her? She WANTS it! Shouldn’t that be enough?

No. Because despite her passionate desire to be able to both drop her pacifier and have it return to her on a whim, her desires violate the law of gravity. She is a baby and she is learning how the world works. Aren’t we all?

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet. James 4:1-10 The Message

In what ways have you been fighting gravity?

Re-Remember

Recovering our lives asks us to re-remember. We observe and acknowledge the world we have constructed for ourselves - what we have chosen to focus on and obsess over. We admit that our ways of being in the world are not working. We do not have to figure all that out but we do need to accept the truth of our failed strategies for making life work. We commit to examining and re-evaluating what we remember - we know something has to change!

Inevitably, we will need to deconstruct some of our confidently held beliefs about God, ourselves and the world. This will require a certain degree of trust in something bigger than ourselves (God and even other mentors), a big dose of humility (I could be wrong), and a LOT of work to reconstruct our life in a way that is workable.

How does this sound to you? Overwhelming? It’s not as overwhelming as living life alone and disconnected from your virtue! One step at a time - just take one step at a time. And breathe.

Meditation Moment- Thank You

Some days my mind races too much to formulate words; one prayer that is always appropriate:

Thank You.

Thank You.

Thank You.

Amen

Combine this prayer with Centering Prayer and breathe in - Thank You. Breathe out - Thank You. Take the time you need to move from saying the words to feeling them.

Your Relationship with God: A Journaling Exercise

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

~ Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

Journal about this passage of scripture. What do you notice? How does this fit with your notions about God and his relationship with you?

Identifying False Strategies and Confused Beliefs

I have a habit of thinking that God and others expect me to earn my keep. I believe that I must constantly choose what is best for others so that THEY can have a good life. I believe in duty. I believe in sacrifice. I believe in suffering for the cause. What cause? I dunno. I never thought further than this idea that I should not ask for what I need.

One of the weird ways this showed up is an eating disorder. I basically starved myself almost to death.

This is NOT what the scriptures teach. Everyday I have to unlearn these deeply ingrained inclinations that I have to believe that I am unworthy unless I am achieving for the sake of others. I’m going to level with you - I like to win. I love to achieve. I enjoy being helpful. I am obsessed with a drive to leave the world a better place than it was when I arrived kicking and screaming. If these strategies worked, I would stick with them. But they could not bear up under the wear and tear of life.

Every sacrifice eventually lost its luster.

Success was fleeting, constantly demanding more success to satisfy my craving for significance and praise.

Ultimately, I could not thrive on self-deprivation. My eating disorder, anorexia, was a representation of my false strategies and confused beliefs about God and myself.

These may not be your strategies or false beliefs - your work is to figure out and name yours. As you lay claim to them, it will inform the ways that they have compromised your sanity.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

~ Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

Meditation Moment- Prayer for Protection and Safety

There are many prayers for protection and safety. Here is one you may want to use today. Do not rush prayer; breathe.

The light of God surrounds me,

The love of God enfolds me,

The power of God protects me,

The resene of God watches over me,

Wherever I am God is, and all is well.

Amen

Addiction: A Dream Stealer

Addiction robs us of our dreams and steals our joy. We end up in a state of perpetual dis-ease. We lose consciousness of God, our place in his story, and an awareness of how our choices affect others - even those we love to pieces. Our mind develops a specific way of coping with our loss of consciousness of who we are and how much God loves us. We have a limited range of emotions that we habitually experience; we practice certain behaviors that we have grown attached to using to get what we think we need to survive; we have repetitive thoughts and our thinking becomes unproductive as we habitually think about our life in limited ways. This problem is not unique to those of us who struggle with substance use. All humans struggle with loss of focus and fixations. These fixations and coping strategies are ways we deal with our forgetfulness about who we are and who God is.

[Jesus said…] I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

~ John 10:6-10 The Message

Jesus presents in his teaching time and again this idea that he came to give us something good. God demonstrates over and over how he has the capacity and will to bless us. These are not small, hungry, angry narcissistic gods who want us to feed and entertain them. God’s disposition is to love us. His power is harnessed and utilized for the purpose of restoration. Our restoration.

Recognizing Compulsions

My brother was five when he had his first drink. It was a steamy hot day and dad had just cut the grass. He grabbed a beer and sat at the kitchen table. My brother bugged and begged for a sip. Dad, assuming the kid would HATE it, gave him a taste. My brother reports that in that instant he found his purpose for living. Convinced that he had found his magic elixir for life, he remembers that from that day forward he could not wait to drink again.

This did not work out well for him. Not everyone has a Substance Use Disorder with such a clear start date. Some of us have to practice more. But for Gary, his obsession was launched when he did what small kids do - try to copy their daddy’s every move. Over the course of the next twenty plus years Gary still pursued a dream. Culinary school at one of the finest institutions in the world was his biggest endeavor and he quickly proved his ability and giftedness in the classroom. Six weeks before graduation blew his best efforts and was promptly dismissed. Many call this self-sabotage. And it was. But more importantly, it is a symptom of a disease that crowds out all desire for anything but our addiction and the lie that we need it to survive.

Have you ever had a compulsion that took and took and never ultimately gave us what it initially promised? Think about it. Ask yourself - are your compulsions trustworthy?

Meditation Moment- Prayer of Loving-Kindness

This prayer of loving-kindness comes from the Buddhist tradition but has been adapted for this material:

Lord, may I be at peace.

Father, may my heart remain open.

Holy Spirit, guide me as I seek to know myself, experience healing, and draw near to you.

Grant that I might be a source of healing for others.

Even as I am grateful to those who support my healing.

Amen

Breathe slowly and pause at each line. Dare to hope that you can be peaceful, open, supported, healed and walk in conscious contact with God. Even better? Your healing makes it possible for you to be a source of healing for others! Gratitude abounds!

Sacred Suffering

Suffering asks us to figure out what we truly believe. Honestly. Not what I want to think of myself, not what I want to convince someone else to think of me - the plain truth and nothing but the truth. It also requires a certain level of trust in God. Mike O’Neill in his book the Power to Choose says, “There’s no power in something that you’re supposed to believe but don’t.” We need to work hard to evaluate what we really, truly believe about God.

What I believe about me teaches me what I truly believe about God; what I believe about God informs what I believe about myself. These two beliefs are mirror reflections of each other.

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it - we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him - and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

~ 1 John 3:1-3 The Message

Knowing Your Value

Growing up I heard more sermons on sin than I ever heard about my worth as a child of God. My shame tells me I am worthless; my stubborn resistance and tendency toward arrogance shouts back sounding remarkably like PeeWee Herman, “So what? ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ ” I can find ways to deflect blame and shame. I am a master at defending myself. But honestly, if we have been brought up to believe that we are unworthy, or if we have practiced living an unworthy life for a long time, why wouldn’t we be defensive? Of course we will be defensive!! After all - we were created to embrace virtue and God’s image.

“Some Christians base their identity on being a sinner. I think they have it wrong—or only half right. You are not simply a sinner; you are a deeply loved sinner. And there is all the difference in the world between the two.”

~ David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery[1]

My particular “coming to believe” stumbling block is less about my sin and more around accepting my intrinsic value. If I cannot wrap my head around this idea of self-acceptance then it is almost impossible to believe that restoration is in my future. This sounds like a crazy paradox. I am both ashamed and arrogant, leaving me in the precarious position of not being particularly self-aware.