Self pity clouds our vision

“Why does this stuff always happen to me?” says the guy who just ran head-on into our car while changing his radio station. His second car accident in as many weeks and he feels like someone is picking on him. His driving record indicates that he might be the problem.

He has taken his rash of car accidents and tickets and done what healthy people DO NOT do. He has overgeneralized his issue. He is blaming it on bad luck. Now I do not know this guy - maybe he has a lot of bad luck in his life.

But I suspect that if he were a bit healthier, he might discover some ways to change that reduces the PATTERN that his brain has identified as bad luck.

Do NOT overgeneralize and fall into a self-pity pot. We do not need to ask why God is picking on us because we don’t need to adopt a distorted image of God just so our brains can take a break. God doesn’t tempt or test us to see if we will be a good girl or boy, nor does God withholds good things from us.

My new acquaintance would do well to admit that he has a driving issue, not a luck problem. Maybe some classes would get his competency up and his driving record improved.

When we adjust our thinking, we often find solutions to our problems. That’s good news!!

Lead me by your blessed Spirit into cleared and level pastureland.

~ Psalm 143:10, The Message

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

Settling for quick fixes prolongs suffering

Let’s try something different - I am going to tell you what to do for a change! But these are just recommendations. Only try them if you want a healthier, happier life!!! People who study other people have taken note of some helpful and not-so-helpful patterns for how people deal with life. For the next few days, I’m going to compare and contrast them. I hope they help you make changes - if you need to!

The brain likes it if we distract ourselves from our suffering, rather than lean into our suffering. This makes it easier on the brain to go take a smoke and maybe work in a nap. This is NOT what healthy people do when they are uncomfortable.

Healthy people do NOT seek a distraction from suffering or quick and easy fixes to comfort their pain. Instead, they lean in and explore their discomfort. They know that their pain is real and true and appropriate. They do NOT seek instant gratification.

When Scott and Brittany were going through their miscarriages, they did not pretend that this was part of God’s plan for their life. They turned their back on platitudes. Instead, they got counseling, wrestled with their grief and sought support from those who had survived losses similar to theirs. They do not consider Norah, their beautiful daughter, a replacement child. She is their adorable baby girl but no child should bear the weight of replacing other siblings. This requires Brittany and Scott to suffer AND celebrate. Some days that is hard - because there is no pattern being established that provides a distraction or a quick fix. It’s called - healing. But it is long and hard and messy.

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.

Learning to be fully human

Have you ever felt like you were giving up your right to choose the life you want to live? When I feel this way it is usually because something is standing between me and my preferences. Each morning I have several rituals that I use to center myself and start my day as a person who is in long term recovery with a commitment to being “turned” and placed on a path that leads to life. Not just any life - but a good, decent life. A life where I do not have to sneak or hide or lie or cheat or steal.

If I had a nickel for every time I thought or someone else said to me, “It’s my life! I get to live it MY way!” I would be a wealthy woman. The problem with this kind of thinking is this: When we have this kind of attitude, what we are really doing is constructing a personality, not becoming a full and whole human. This construction project began the instant we were born. We observed how folks responded to us. We listened to what our community valued. We evaluated and compared and competed for attention, affirmation and resources we thought we needed. We have pretended, we have played games, we have turned ourselves inside to get attention, approval or resources to live a life of our own making. This is fantasy living and it is as unsatisfactory for building a decent life as cotton candy is for providing a nourishing meal.

Recovery helps us remember and reconstruct our lives. When we “turn”, we do so knowing full well that we turn to a God who has our best interests at heart, who knew us before we were born, who knows how we are created and what we are created for. He gets us better than we get ourselves.

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

~ Matthew 10:38-39 The Message

Meditation Moment

Each day we are given the gift of 24 hours; prayer and meditation is one way to ground ourselves in the present moment. Here is a prayer to guide our daily meditation moment!

Look to this day,

for it is life,

the very life of life.

in its brief course lie all

the realities and verities of existence,

the bliss of growth,

the splendor of action,

the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a dream,

and tomorrow is only a vision,

but today, well lived,

makes every yesterday

a dream of happiness a

and every tomorrow

a vision of hope.

Look well therefore, to this day.

Hindu Proverb

Spiritual practices are a source of strength

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

~ Isaiah 40:29, NIV

It has been said by people way smarter than me that addiction is at its heart a spiritual quest. I don’t know about that. I do know that it is looking in the wrong direction. Research bears this out. We are learning that the SOLUTION to Substance Use Disorder that includes a spiritual component is far more effective than one that does not address spirituality.

So maybe those gurus are on to something! Although the using may fall far short in delivering a spiritually transformative experience, the recovery from the quest can be quite enlightening.

Today, take a few moments and just breathe. Give just a fraction of your time this morning to remember that God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Where do you feel weak? What is causing you to be weighted down with weariness? Ask God to strengthen and empower you today.

Spirituality… “It is that sense of well-being I sought in drugs only it’s meaningful and lasting. It is not going to wear off when the drug wears off, it seems to come from within.”

Source of the quote:

Working on yourself is always a good place to start

Participants of long term recovery seem to understand better than most that their problem is one of self. They learn to identify and claim the various ways their selfishness has caused problems and they are clearly working to figure out how to live differently. This is a practical way to talk about our lack of self-awareness and helps us understand better why other people get so agitated with us. Here is a quote from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that speaks to how selfishness can complicate our faith journey:

“Like all the remaining Steps, Step Three calls for affirmative action, for it is only by action that we can cut away the self-will which has always blocked the entry of God - or, if you like, a Higher Power - into our lives. Faith, to be sure, is necessary, but faith alone can avail nothing. We can have faith, yet keep God out of our lives. Therefore our problem now becomes just how and by what specific means shall we be able to let Him in? Step Three represents our first attempt to do this. In fact, the effectiveness of the whole A.A. program will rest upon how well and earnestly we have tried to come to ‘a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.’ “ Anonymous

Today, research helps explain WHY we act in ways that are not in our best interest. That knowledge is in danger of turning into an excuse unless we add to that information the awareness that for all intents and purposes, the world sees us as selfish and self-centered. They do not much care WHY, they want to know WHEN we are going to get our act together.

...I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him.

~ Deuteronomy 30:19 The Message

The decision before us is one that will begin a lifelong process of surrendering to the will of a God we cannot see. This God has no doubt been misrepresented to us at times; other times we have closed our ears and hearts to him. I particularly appreciate words spoken by a man describing his own recovery experience. “Take all the ideas that you have about spirituality, religion, about God, about a whole bunch of stuff and just put them over here, forget them for a while.” He is asking us to get curious. An impaired brain is not conducive to curiosity, so this is part of what we will trust God to do in and through and with us. This is not easy, but neither is living as a hostage in our own brain.

Unintended Consequences

I used to believe in the concept of a victimless crime. Maybe coming home late at night and eating peanut butter to soothe my jangled nerves did not directly hurt others - so long as I left enough for Pete to have his nightly snack of Ritz crackers and a smidge of Skippy.

But I was wrong.

If I am not feeding my body with the nutrients it needs (substituting peanut butter for cruciferous vegetables for example), then I am not my best self. I may be more grumpy, sluggish, and catch more colds. I might eventually develop an allergy to my beloved peanut butter through overexposure.

The nutritional framework I need for optimal fueling may not be the same framework others need. But it is my responsibility to figure out how my body operates best.

If I fail to own this responsibility, I am not the only sufferer. My family and friends suffer my bad moods and reluctance to go on long hikes. My work suffers as my brain is not agile and sharp. Strangers who annoy me suffer my impatience and dirty looks.

We matter. You matter. I matter. What do you need to take responsibility for and change? Have you been under valuing your potential to do good (or harm)? What thought projects need your attention?

You CAN deal with the things you can't deal with.

What’s your biggest fear? What do you think you absolutely cannot handle? Guess what? There may come a time when you have no choice in the matter. A day may arise when you have to handle the very thing you think you cannot deal with.

Although I am a big fan of planning, I do not think it is possible to plan but for so much disaster. So, frankly, I’ve kind of let that need to prepare for the worst case scenario. Instead, I am building a life around wellness, joy, and living true to my core values. It’s plenty of work, but it is very satisfying, and much better than toting a survival kit everywhere I go.

I am, instead, building a thriving toolbox, filled with all I need for an abundant life. One of those tools is my thought-o-meter. I use it to check myself and my thoughts out. In yesterday’s blog, I listed a few common thought no-no’s. Today and tomorrow I am going to unpack a couple that I have had to work on changing.

The work of Byron Katie is great for this, you should check her out. But I also have discovered that my lack of creativity in my thought life means that if I pay attention, I notice my self-defeating thoughts without much effort. If I pay attention!! So - you can do this!!

I have learned that I practice habits but I do not regularly evaluate them for effectiveness. I used to think I needed to walk 10,000 steps per day or I might drop dead from a heart attack any minute. Today, I understand that there is no one right way to keep our bodies healthy. 10,000 steps is awesome, but we do not have to get out the nitroglycerine if instead of walking we decide to garden or ride a bike or lift weights.

What habits in all their many forms are you overly dependent on? Are you sure they are accomplishing what you want them to? Are there other options that are equally effective? Variety is indeed the spice of life! Are you spicy enough to have a joy-filled life?

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!

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.

Meditation Moment

Here is a brief prayer to start your day. Breathe through it and meditate for a few minutes on the meaning it has for you today.

The seed of God is in us.


the seed of a pear tree

grows into a pear tree

and a hazel seed

grows into a hazel tree;

the seed of God is in us -

a seed of God

grows into God.

~ Meister Eckhart

Realizing that this poem is NOT saying that we become God, embrace the reality that we bear his image. You bear his image. You love like your daddy; you look like your daddy; you serve like your daddy; you think and feel and care like your daddy. Your Heavenly Father shows you who you are meant to become.

None of us is all that moral

“Am I willing to believe that there is something out there that is bigger than me? I wasn’t 100% sure until I started really [coming to] terms with my insanity.”

By the Book

For people unfamiliar with the recovery world, declaring ourselves “insane” sounds, well, kind of crazy. Who says that about themselves? But often it is true. Maybe it is not the kind of mental crisis that results in treatment, but I believe insanity is on a spectrum. Just because no one is locking you up, does not mean you are A-OK!

In the recovery world, we talk about insanity like this: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Can you relate?

I have a friend who is struggling in her marriage. She keeps going to marriage retreats with her spouse but nothing is changing. I suggested they consider adding other resources to support their marital mending. Her pastor told her good Christians do NOT go to counseling.

I pointed out that I did not know that many good Christians. I hang out with the ones who struggle. They mess up. Like me. And I could see no downside to adding a voice into the mix of marital mayhem. What could it hurt? She thinks that it would hurt her reputation at church. And, get this - people might think they are having issues!!!!! THEY ARE HAVING ISSUES AND EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS IT!! So this brings me to a question that seems to always apply: in your journey, what holds you back from getting the support you need? Does your reluctance make sense - or might it be your disease talking? Or your pride? Or your fear of change?

Source for the quote is found here: at 1:38.

Seek Out a Fresh Perspective

During my years of viewing food as my enemy, I knew something was not quite right with me. I did some research. This was over forty years ago. No one seemed to know much about anorexia except that it killed this amazing singer named Karen Carpenter. But people were more than willing to present their theories of what was wrong with me.

“She is exerting control in the only way she can.” The implied blame here is that my parents somehow caused me to do this by being over-controlling. Ha. This was NEVER the issue in my house.

“She is vain; she wants to be the next Twiggy.” This was sarcasm. No way was weight the ONLY issue that kept me off the cover of Vogue.

“She is insecure and is trying to fit in.” I was insecure. But none of my friends were living off of twigs and coffee. Why was this my coping strategy?

In the end, I batted away all their theories with a barely lifted hand. My eating disorder baffled me and no amount of theorizing made me well. Today, researchers have tools that allow them to study our brains in amazing detail, with the added bonus that their subjects are still alive. They can watch the brain function, tracking damage and repair in real time. Researchers have learned, for example, that excessive use of alcohol shrinks the brain. This shriveling effect literally leaves the person with less brain to work with than a brain that is not pickled by alcohol. It matters where the brain shrinks too. Addiction is particularly rough on the cortex, the outer layer of the brain. The frontal lobe plays key roles in memory, judgment, impulse control, problem solving and other intellectual skills. It also serves as a regulator for both social and sexual behavior. Can you imagine how challenging it is to make decent recovery decisions with a compromised frontal lobe? I am not sure about all the technical effects of starving one’s brain - but clearly it was not making me smarter, faster, or wiser. The longer I used, the harder it was to THINK. But I did not know that and if I had, I would have not known how to stop the chatter! I believed I was in control; I thought I was making choices; I did not realize that it was the disease doing all the talking.

Getting help usually involves finding a fresh perspective. Who can help you?

Listening to Experience

Years ago Dale Ryan recorded the voices of some recovering folks; those interviews are available in their totality at You should check them out! But I particularly loved this quote...

I really feel like I left no stone unturned in looking for something that would fix me...I could run down a laundry list of things that didn’t...Despite my most sincere desire to never repeat that experience and use that [experience] as a springboard to change my life and make something good come of it, I still used...What other human power is there? So if no human power will save me and I see something working in the lives of other people...just like me...can I afford not to try it? That’s the question I needed to ask myself.

By the Book

If your life is rocking along without crisis or drama, cool. But if it isn’t, perhaps the wisdom of others can provide you much needed support. Maybe you need to look outside yourself for the support you need today. Who can you reach out to that has what you need? Reach out!!

Source of the quote: at 12:50 - 14:20.

Getting Our Affairs in Order

A few months ago I received word that some blood work I had drawn during a routine physical came back with some “anomalies.” Further tests were conducted and I waited to hear more news. The news could be good - no problems detected. It could be annoying - we need to run more tests. It could be manageable - here is what we found and this is how we fix it. It could be bad - you have an un-treatable condition, get your affairs in order. These were my options. It turns out it was all good news and there is no reason that the blood work would indicate that Pete should go shopping for a replacement wife.

This was not my first rodeo with a “get your affairs in order” speech. When my eating disorder was at its worst and my heart began to have issues I did not get my affairs in order despite dire warnings from my cardiologist; I continued to compulsively starve myself for months. I can say from personal experience that when I was at the “get your affairs in order” stage of sickness, the nature of my sickness meant that I was poorly equipped to follow advice and heed warnings.

Eventually, reluctantly, I began the healing process but it was messy and slow and relapse-prone. Eventually, my metaphorical blood work began to improve. The level of insanity was down; not normal, but down. I heard others speak about their own experiences and I opened up to the possibility that I did indeed have a condition I would manage for the rest of my life. I was reasonably confident that I could not handle it on my own. I was absolutely certain that my best efforts were not enough to save me.

I had a decision to make. It needed to be a different decision than all the other times I had made promises to myself and others and made commitments I was incapable of keeping. What was I going to do this time that I had never done before? Have you ever been at the end of your rope? How did you climb out of the pit? Are you there today? Who could you ask to help you start the long road back to wellness?

The Benefits of Being an Outsider

One of my favorite people in the whole wide world is in a free fall. After years of sobriety, he has relapsed. I feel so very, very sad. Until I think about his faith. This guy believes that God loves him and he is deeply spiritual. He understands that God loves “the sorry people”. He’s in bad shape AND God is in the business of restoring broken people. No problemo. The cynics among us might scoff at this. In fact, just the other day another person I know said this: “Well, he couldn’t have loved Jesus as much as he said he did if he has gone off and gotten back on the sauce.” Big, big sigh.

Can we talk about this? If loving Jesus served as a spiritual vaccine against doing stuff that goes against our core values, then we would NOT have so many church folk doing hood rat stuff - like having affairs, watching porn (at work, even at work being a pastor), abusing others, stealing from the petty cash drawer, getting divorced, etc. I’m not judging the sin here - but I am just pointing out reality. Loving Jesus doesn’t stop us from messing up. So why in the name of all things holy do we think it provides an insurance policy against relapse?

But...just because Jesus is not the equivalent of a vaccine against going against our own values does NOT mean our faith is of no value. It just shows up in a different form.

Right now my friend is on the street buying drugs from folks he once tried to help get sober. He is a serious outsider, isolated from his tribe of recovery warriors. But drug dealers will sell to anyone. People are talking. They are saying that the guy who used to help them is now in need of help himself. Can you imagine how nervous they feel? Their leader now needs a good shepherd to guide him back home. Everyone is just sick over the situation. I just want him to come back home. No judgment here, brother, Just. Come. Home.

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Matthew 9:12-13 The Message

Meditation Moment

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

~ John 8:32 The Message

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Take this step for you. You are worth it. Find some quiet time to sit and breathe. Imagine what it would be like for you to stick with your faithful pilgrimage. Dare to dream of what it would be like to be a spiritual being in an earth suit. What would your day and evening look like? Just imagine. No pressure.

Recovery is a puzzle

“To me, recovery is like trying to put together this puzzle. There are all these different puzzle pieces. They are not the same for everyone, but for me, those puzzle pieces have been therapy, medication, fellowship and 12-Step. All of these puzzle pieces come together to allow me to stay sober, and they are all really important. However, they are different for everybody. I wish there was one solution that worked for all people, but unfortunately, that is not the case.” Excerpt from Beautiful Boy: An Interview with Nic Sheff, John Lavitt 10/12/2018,

You were created by a loving God with great intentionality. You are not alone in figuring out your puzzle.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;

you formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration—what a creation!

You know me inside and out,

you know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,

how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;

all the stages of my life were spread out before you,

The days of my life all prepared

before I’d even lived one day.

~ Psalm 139:15-16, The Message