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.

Recognizing patterns helps us learn to break them

Our brains love patterns; our bodies like to acclimate to habits; but our spirits cry out for the opportunities to create, explore and express curiosity. No wonder Substance Use Disorder strips us of our creativity, our drive to try new things and our ability to care about our world and its people!

Recognizing our patterns can be a challenge; the fact that we have patterns means, by definition, that after a good deal of practice they become mostly unconscious. Fortunately, people have studied such things and can help wake us up to the way we relate to our world. We want to learn this so that we can move forward in self-awareness, and make more conscious decisions about when a particular way of being is helpful to our goals versus when it is hindering our ability to change.

Just to be clear - these are changes that we decide we need or want to make because of who we are and want to be...not because someone said we needed to make them. These are volitional choices made with a clear head and an open heart.

Tomorrow we will look at three particular patterns, one of which you will especially relate to - we all have a favorite one of these ways of being in the world.

Coping strategies, Compulsions, and Dependencies

The more we get in the habit of coping using a particular set of strategies, the more ingrained the behavior becomes. Soon we operate on automatic pilot. We forget that we once loved to tell our families about our favorite book (or whatever those things are about us that are intrinsic to us but not supported by our environment). Over time, these strategies may lose their applicability. But we keep using them because we falsely believe at this point that this is just who we are!

Coping strategies turn into compulsions which lead to dependencies and all that dysfunction results in us becoming self-focused, self-absorbed, and selfish in our desperate search for what we need. Instead of figuring out our needs, we start settling for what our compulsion tricks us into believing we want. This is the perfect environment for the development of shortcomings. And eventually - dependencies.

If you’re trying to follow along with your own inventory, here is what you are working on:

1. Making a chronological (by age) list of your emotional memories.

2. Writing a brief summary of the event that produced those feelings.

3. Write out our reaction to the situation.

Learning to understand coping strategies

As a child, one of the early lifelong strengths that emerged for me was a love for reading and a lot of curiosity for learning. I distinctly remember a time in elementary school when I went PAINFULLY and LABORIOUSLY over the storyline of a particular book I was reading during the family meal. No one was interested in the book or my elaborate summary. They began to call me a bookworm and tease me about the number of books I would read - per day! Ok, I probably was over the top enthusiastic.

In contrast, I could listen to my children and grandchildren ramble on FOREVER about a variety of topics. Am I always interested in PAW Patrol, socialism or the distinct tones a particular kind of walnut creates in a guitar? Do I care about amortization charts or where the University of Virginia is seeded in the NCAA Tournament? Not particularly. But people I love care about these things and my recovery has given me the gift of loving what others love as an expression of caring.

What I care about is my husband, friends, family, kids and grandkids. I study them for the pure pleasure of seeing who they are and catching glimpses of how God made them. The world will not be as fascinated by them as I am - and that’s natural too. In healthy families everyone gets a turn being heard, especially in a world that is busier shouting than listening.

When our personhood is routinely diminished or ignored, this hurts our soul. We thrive in a world that is loving and curious; we wilt under the scrutiny of belittling or neglect. We react by developing coping strategies. We perhaps set aside or hide our passions, whether it is for reading or music or physical action and adventure, in favor of acting in ways that gets us what we crave - approval, esteem, validation and security. Next up on our inventory? Ferreting out some of the habitual patterns we have developed as coping strategies!

Once you’ve made your complete inventory of emotions related to memories, go back and do two things: 1. Write a brief statement about what triggered the emotion and 2. Write down your reaction. This may take a while, no worries, plug away!

Secrets keep us sick

Have you ever been told that you shouldn’t feel a certain way?

As a child I had preferences, feelings and even an opinion or two. This is exactly how children should live in the world - with curiosity and ideas of their own. These ideas often upset the apple cart of our compromised family system. Experts agree that in family systems that are in survival mode, upsets of any kind that do not fit with the family dysfunction are frowned upon.

As a young child I asked questions about my father’s long absences. I began to have nightmares and intruding thoughts about my dad dying or getting arrested. I had no facts to back up my fears but my questions were not being addressed so I made up a story in my head that made sense to a five year old. Where do daddies go? Maybe they die or maybe they get taken away against their will. I could not imagine a world where daddies left because they got a better offer.

In response to these questions and suggested scenarios, I cannot remember the specific response of my mother but I do remember an understanding developing - stop talking, stop asking, stop making stuff up. I stopped asking questions. I stopped asking for help with my fears and anxieties. I stopped trusting that if I asked for help, I would receive it. I felt ashamed and guilty and maybe just a touch of shame for not being “normal”. I thought the problem was....me. This became a pattern of coping for me that worked until it didn’t.

One saying we hear in meetings all the time is this: We are as sick as our secrets. This is a decent saying. Excavating our secret fears and frustrations that we buried so long ago can be challenging - we have worked long and hard for many years to not deal with problems we lacked the skills to address. Now we can begin that work.

Where do we begin? One place to start is to grab a blank journal and begin cataloguing all your feelings in chronological order. What was your first feeling? Work your way through your memories and pretty soon, you might notice a pattern to your emotional memories.

Learn to confront a wide range of emotions

One pattern to watch out for in families that struggle with Substance Use Disorder is the distinctive but predictable ways some families think about emotions. Emotions are considered shameful. Usually the range of acceptable emotions is limited. Some families do not nurture the wide range of feelings available to humans; instead they are locked into a small subset of emotions that reflect the addictive family system’s limited worldview. This can happen for a variety of reasons. We are doing the best we can! But it is an issue that may need our attention.

When a child is frightened by the loud voices of angry adults, it is normal and appropriate for them to cry. But in a family where emotions are considered wrong or bad or weak, this vulnerable kid will be told, “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about!” OR “Only babies cry. Stop being a baby!” The chaos, conflict and generalized neglect of self-care, relationships, and finances in families shaken to the core by addiction is something that is worthy of shedding tears over - for each family member, including the children. But this raw honest expression of sorrow may not be allowed. This problem is NOT limited to families with addiction issues. All sorts of families, doing their best but lacking healthy ways of being in the world, also struggle with emotional sobriety.

If we have a feeling that tries to express itself in a suffering family but we lack tools to deal with it, we might feel shame and guilt. If we haven’t been taught how to use tools to express and resolve our emotions and we have access to a limited range of emotions, is it any wonder that when we come to our Fourth Step we will struggle to process our resentments, fears, and even the joy we feel when we acknowledge our strengths? Step Four allows us to open up the can of worms and peek inside - only to find out that the rumors about emotions and their danger to the family has been greatly exaggerated. As we proceed we will learn and reinforce processing and taking responsibility for our emotions.

One of my survival skills as a kid was avoiding conflict. Conflict in my family was scary and could get out of hand. I learned to skirt around topics that might cause arguments; I preferred to lie than to tell the truth about anything that might spark my father’s anger or my mother’s criticism. This survival skill helped when I was young but it lost its usefulness as I matured. I needed to put that strategy down and pick up more effective skills for building strong and vibrant relationships.

Today my son and I walked down by the James River. It was brisk but sunny and wild with whipping waves and overflowing water covering many of the big rocks in the middle of the river that we enjoy sitting on during the summer months. We talked politics. He shared freely his political perspective and I learned a lot. I am so grateful to have a conversation with my son about a topic that would require me to process ideas that were new and sometimes even a bit strange to me. I know my boy for who he is; he does not have to hide parts of himself from me; he knows me in this same way. We have boundaries and privacy, as is appropriate, but there is no need to keep secrets for fear of rejection or raging conflict. In my family of origin, we did not have the skills to allow others the space to be themselves. This is one of the gifts that Twelve Step work can bring into our lives. Now - onto the first part of the inventory!

Coming clean before God and others

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me,

get a clear picture of what I’m about;

See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—

then guide me on the road to eternal life.

~Psalm 139:23-24, The Message

I used to believe that God is all-knowing. And certainly he knows a lot. But a more careful reading of the scriptures indicates that sometimes God is surprised by us mortals. (If you are interested in knowing more about this concept, Scott taught a class that dealt with this issue, and if you contact him, he will send you a link to his materials. scott@northstarcommunity.com)

If God knows everything all the time, then taking an inventory is just for me. But what if...what if the inventory process is also a way to get everything out in the open with God too? (That happens in Step 5.)

It is so fascinating to dare to think that our increased self-awareness, which surely an inventory would produce if done well, might also give God an opportunity to get to know us better too.

Doesn’t that sound cool?

Taking an inventory is less scary when we remember who God is

In deference to living and working an honest program, I have a confession to make. I did not grow up in a home where honesty was practiced or rewarded. For most of my growing up years I lied when it was easier to tell the truth. It was a habit. It was a safety measure in light of my family system. Partly it was fantasy living. Mostly it was trying to read the room and figure out what others expected from me and then giving the people what they wanted.

Today I understand that this was my attempt to win approval, avoid punishment and seek positive attention - but I did not understand it then. My adult self has compassion for the little girl who felt like she had to perform like a circus clown to get anyone’s attention. It was a terrible habit that turned into a character defect and although it worked fine at home, out in the real world most people prefer to relate to people they can trust.

When I turned my life over to God, I was ill-equipped to deal with the truth. I expected God to be either apathetic or downright hostile towards me. I still struggle to maintain a more accurate view of God and his love for me. My first Fourth Step reflected my lack of understanding of God’s love for me. Undergirding all my efforts to become a more honest human has required me to increase my conscious contact with who God is, not who I imagined him to be, as I looked for him in my father. I use scriptures to teach me that I can trust this God, which has turned out to be a better guide than what I heard from the pulpit in my grandparent’s church or the speculations of others who often tried to convince me that I needed to be afraid and perform for God.

You may also struggle with this, so before we get into the weeds of Step Four - here is a reminder of who God is....

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

~ 1 John 4:9-10, The Message

Sin - living independently of God, only a problem in that living independently of God is not healthy focus.

God - not as worried about how we live as he is about the effects of how we have lived and our relationship with him, ourselves and others. God is not worried about his reputation; he is not asking us to be good so that he feels better. He is focused on the object of his love - us - and is deeply committed to healing our wounds.

Keep this in mind, we might just need this kind of support going forward. And, FYI, as you are building a team to support your work, make sure it is people who don’t practice shame or blame or are judgy McJudgsters. However, they do need to be people who can not only hear the truth, but can speak it too.

Healing starts with honest self-reflection

An inventory is when we basically take stock of our life. This means everything, not just the problem that got our attention. Inventories are done thoroughly when we include EVERYTHING on the list. This includes the positive and the negative, and later on I will make it easy for you to complete one with instructions so thorough it will make your head spin. I have yet to meet a person who does a particularly decent job listing the positive traits about themselves AND no one gets all giddy over the possibility of inventorying their fears, resentments and sexual history. Despite our collective reluctance, the list needs to be as complete and honest as we can bear.

A couple came to Northstar Community (a recovery church I co-pastor) looking for help for the wife’s drinking. He thought she had a problem, she did not agree with his assessment. During our conversation I asked the husband about his drinking habits. I do this to assess what we’re working with when we meet a family. He said, “I have one drink a night.” Sounds reasonable.

I replied, “Would it be possible for the two of you to go alcohol and drug free for thirty days? This will help us establish a bit of a baseline for whether or not there is a problem with alcohol in your family, especially since the two of you are not in agreement about the severity of the issue.” They agreed.

Within twelve hours the wife was in detox; after another twelve hours, her husband joined her. It turns out that his single vodka per night was poured into super-sized Yeti cooler. He was pounding the vodka but was technically accurate when he said he had “one drink” per night. Figuring this out saved him from detoxing in an unsafe manner. It helped the treatment team treat the real problem, not just the identified patient in the family (his wife).

When you do this inventory, problems will emerge. That’s reality. But because this is a spiritual program, we can trust that it is not a harsh reality intended to shame and blame. It is a pathway to healing. The more honesty you can muster, the better the support available to you will be because your team will be better informed.

If you are interested in taking this step, begin today by building a team of folks who can support your work. You need more details about how to build this amazing support group? Give Scott or Teresa a shout out! (scott@northstarcommunity.com or teresa@northstarcommunity.com)

New Strategies for Future Challenges

We are all hot messes. It is hard to examine ourselves. This may not be your first rodeo with recovery and Step Four. That’s okay - you are not alone. I have a friend who was working, by all accounts, a decent program. Her mother died unexpectedly in a car accident. On the day of her mother’s funeral, she had a slip up and drank at her mother’s memorial service. She feels like a failure.

Of course she does. But what we are learning in recovery is that our feelings are not always fact. Her friends empathize with how lousy she feels AND they remind her that she did not lose all her clean time because she had one slip. She feels a lot of shame - and we can all relate to that! But using on this particularly difficult day without a support network around her to navigate the funeral and after party? That does not make her a failure. And it does not negate her recovery efforts. It does, however, make her vulnerable if she doesn’t jump right back on the recovery train.

Perhaps you are not a person in recovery from Substance Use Disorder. Maybe you cannot relate to her struggles. Take a few breaths and re-evaluate your situation. How many times have you promised yourself ‘A’ only to live ‘B’. Maybe your blood work indicates you are headed on a direct path toward diabetes and you know that you MUST change your way of eating. After your son’s birthday bash. After the holidays. Or your marriage is kind of a mess and you know you SHOULD go get some help, but who to go to? And it’s expensive! And time consuming!! So there we have it - we are all far more alike than different.

Early recovery and initial efforts to change feel bad and are hard to sustain. It is easy to think that this means life is bad. It’s hard work but helpful to remember that this bad feeling may be just a blip on the road to an otherwise abundant life. A slip that is rapidly followed up by a return to recovery or new ways of living can help a person and their support team figure out how to tweak their program for more effectiveness. In the case above, my friend has decided that she will no longer attend high stress, heavy drinking family functions without a recovery buddy. She will go early and leave early. She has new strategies for future challenges, even those that are not as traumatic as her mom’s funeral.

We need to "find our way back home"

If turning our life and will over to the care and control of God “fixed stuff” we wouldn’t need a Fourth Step. We would also see a statistical difference in divorce rates, fewer problems with Substance Use Disorder in Christian families, and a host of other problems people face daily. Folks who are faithful believers should, in theory, have fewer problems than those who do not profess a faith in God. But we do not see statistical differences. Faithful people struggle with the same issues at approximately the same rate as folks who spend Sundays cutting grass and watching sports on television.

In trying to explain this, a few gurus and experts have resorted to blame. They talk about how people at church are struggling because they do not pray right, they have never really accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, they have unconfessed sin, etc. etc. etc. But, what if it is actually more complicated than that? What if blame is not the answer?

Maybe our humanity lends itself to control issues, forgetfulness of our divine image-bearing capacity, and confusion about what it means to turn our life over. This is certainly true for the men and women we read about in the scriptures. Why wouldn’t it also be true for us? Look at Hebrews 11, the Hall of Fame of God’s righteous people. They are, every one of them, a cast of characters with spotty resumes and plenty of bad behaving.

Maybe there are those among us who simply have been selfish and self-seeking and need a good strong kick in the spiritual pants. However, this has not been my experience with people. I find that most people do not ruthlessly and wantonly try to screw up their lives by making poor choices. Underneath every story that appears to be about callous indifference to others is usually a wounded animal fighting to survive. Often this wounded soul has been traumatized in some way. There is much here to be both merciful and gracious about.

Wounded or not, when we do screw up our lives, behave ruthlessly, wantonly disregard the needs and wants of others, lie, cheat and steal...we need to change all that. We need to figure out how to turn around and find our way back home. Home base for humans includes the capacity to behave with empathy and compassion, to regard others’ needs and wants as well as our own, to know and live by the truth, to live honorably. To love well. In a few studies we will start that process.

Accurately assessing ourselves creates peace

There is absolutely, hands down, no better way to make peace with myself and others than to take stock of myself and see, really see, who I am and how my personhood impacts those around me. This is an essential part of a fresh start.

Imagine you are transferring the ownership of your life to God in the same way you would transfer ownership of a business. One of the first things you would do in negotiating to sell a business would be to take an inventory to discover the damaged or out-of-date goods that are no longer salable.

In Step Four we call it a “moral” inventory because we compile a list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest moral values. We also inventory our “good” traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life’s moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self- defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults.

- Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing

Another person in recovery talked about his own Step 4 inventory when he said, “The inventory is the first thing I do in conscious partnership with God. And that’s why prayer is so important in the process. It is not something I’m going to figure out when I’m preoccupied with and deconstruct it and analyze it...all those things I’ve tried to do [on my own] and came out disastrously wrong.”

An inventory is how we STEP UP. But we can only do so when we have leaned into this sure-footed understanding that God is not out to get us. Tomorrow, we will look more closely at the process itself.

Learn to question your feelings

When I was a kid I often dreamed of the police coming to the house and hauling my dad off to jail. As I aged up, I often had these vague feelings, fear and dread mostly, that I was a person who might get hauled off to prison for wrongdoing. What wrongdoing? I did not know. I wondered - am I a bad person?

I could shrink all this down and hypothesize about my chronic shame, but it would bore you and miss the point I am trying to meander to. Here’s the deal: There are a ton of things we cannot know for certain, but one thing that is true enough and sure enough to make all of us collectively jump for joy.

This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit.

~ 1 John 4:13, The Message

Our feelings are helpful, but don’t get the final say in determining our value. Neither do other people’s feelings, thoughts and opinions. Here is what we can know: We are living in the light when we wrestle with what it means to love God. There is no major renovation needed to turn us INTO a someone God can love, he created us as beings he deeply and profoundly loves. This changes the nature of our work, and the confidence in our capacity to be faithful people.

We were made for this abundant, loving life. It is our best and most natural look. But we still screw up. We do bad things. God knows this, and made provision for us. It is beautifully laid out in the 12 Steps of AA. In case these are not steps you trod, we’ll unpack it in future blog posts.

The benefit of making decisions slowly

Some situations are mine to own and respond to! What if I am the lead dog? What if the decisions needed rest at my feet? If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

1. Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

1. Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

2. How can I contribute?

1. Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

3. What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The STEP BACK is an important boundaries tool. But the STEP UP is all about character. What happens when we realize that we’ve messed up? Well folks, there are appropriate responses for that too.

Stay tuned!

What problems are yours to solve?

Yesterday we suggested that some problems are not ours to solve. We need to detach from the problem and its possible outcomes. Other times, another choice is appropriate. These questions may help you distinguish between the two:

1. What is my part in this matter?

1. Do I even have a right to claim investment in the outcome?

2. Is this even my business?

3. Am I staying within my boundary? Is this my problem?

If I decide that this is indeed my business, I am appropriately invested in the outcome because it is my business and I am NOT overstepping any boundaries if I take on the work of trying to be a part of the solution, then I move on to a different set of questions:

1. What is my part in this matter?

1. Who are the other stakeholders in this situation? Who is the primary stakeholder?

2. What part do I play in relation to the other stakeholders?

3. Am I a bit player? A lead dog? A co-laborer?

4. Am I over-invested in the outcome in light of my role?

5. Is my ego involved?

6. How do I fit in with the whole picture?

Suppose after all this self-reflection I discover that I am not the primary stakeholder in this scenario. Maybe I am just a bit player. But perhaps my thoughts and feelings are deeply invested in the problem. When that happens, I am becoming part of the problem. If I am over-invested based on my role, I need to practice the STEP BACK.

Bit players are valuable too. But they serve very different functions than a full-on team mate or a co-laborer. When my son played lacrosse, I was a bit player. I was a cheerleader in the stands. I washed the uniform and remembered where he left his shoulder pads as he frantically backed his game bag. I did not coach, or referee, or run out on the field and punch the guy who hit my kid so hard it jarred his teeth loose. I had after-game snacks. I knew to take him to the doctor to see if he had a concussion after a couple of particularly rough games.

Tomorrow, we wrestle with our part when our investment stake is higher. Today, ask yourself: have I confused my part in someone else’s problem?

Commit to the process, not the outcome

When faced with a stubborn problem with a high stakes outcome most of us freak out. We give up. We fight back. We freeze up and hope a miraculous solution will just reveal itself. We manipulate others. We berate ourselves. We get all whipped up. Turns out that there is one simple but totally counter-intuitive reaction that is far more effective than any of our machinations. WE LET GO OF THE OUTCOME. This doesn’t mean that we give up. Far from it. Here are some questions that I TRY to remember to wrestle with when I am deeply invested in a particular outcome:

What is my part in this matter?

Do I even have a right to claim investment in the outcome?

Is this even my business?

Am I staying within my boundary? Is this my problem?

If any of these are answered “no”, then I need to bail on thinking, feeling and doing with regards to this issue. I need to practice the art of the STEP BACK.

If I decide that this is indeed my business, I am appropriately invested in the outcome because it is my business and I am NOT overstepping any boundaries if I take on the work of trying to be a part of the solution, then:

What is my part in this matter?

Who are the other stakeholders in this situation? Who is the primary stakeholder?

What part do I play in relation to the other stakeholders?

Am I a bit player? A lead dog? A co-laborer?

Am I over-invested in the outcome in light of my role?

Is my ego involved?

How do I fit in with the whole picture?

If I am over-invested based on my role, I need to practice the STEP BACK. If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

How can I contribute?

Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Our actions can change our feelings

Behavior is defined as what we do. Our thoughts and feelings certainly impact our behavior but do not necessarily have to control it. We can establish recovery habits to slow our roll and pause to prepare so that we can learn strategies for evaluating both our thoughts and feelings. We can fact check them; consider other perspectives; get curious. Although we may struggle to apply these principles, I do not think they are particularly new or shocking. In fact, the scriptures have made this plain for all to see.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

~2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

This is tough to actually accomplish. But lately I have been introduced to a different concept. I suspect it is tied to a saying that I have always had a hate/hate relationship with that goes like this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I am not a fan. I am disingenuous enough without choosing to fake stuff! However, like all pithy sayings, I am coming to believe there might just be a kernel of truth in the phrase.

Interestingly, we can also use our behavior to redirect our thoughts and feelings. It turns out, that behaving in a manner that is counter to our thoughts and feelings can actually realign our thoughts and feelings!

For decades I have had some thoughts and feelings about my physical capabilities. I believed that I had certain limits as to how high I could jump, how fast I could run, how heavy I could lift weights. When I began working with a personal trainer, she disavowed me of my self-imposed limitations. I didn’t give up my way of thinking and feeling without a fight. I whined and complained and practiced the fine art of non-compliance. But she just kept suggesting that I plug away and “Give it a try”. I have surpassed every self-imposed limitation and am now enjoying the experience of pushing my boundaries to find my capacity.

My behavior taught my thoughts and feelings to stand down. I could not have led with my thoughts or feelings and changed my behavior. How about you? What thoughts and feelings are holding you back? Maybe you need some good coaching to push you to try new behaviors that challenge these old assumptions.

P.S. I did not “fake” anything; I did, however, submit to a higher authority and reluctantly follow her lead. I did change my behavior in spite of my reluctance to believe that it would bear fruit. I did feel and think that this was crazy talk coming out of her mouth. But I was also willing to consider the possibility that I was wrong and she was wise.

Honest self-reflection helps us live with limitations

I bought a cool feelings chart for my grandchildren. Underneath pictures of children in various moods, the author included a feeling. The little boy with the tears flowing down his cheek is “sad”; the little girl flinging her arms and legs out in a leaping motion is “joy”. Soon I will start reviewing this with tiny Norah; Christian is already subjected to my “feelings” lessons each time he visits. In fact, it is often one of his first activity requests when he visits.

Recently Christian used “confused” in context to describe his feeling. Later in the day he used “frustrated” without throwing a fit for emphasis. When Norah yawns or rubs her eyes, her parents have taught her the sign for “sleepy” (which is adorable). Norah might not be ready for Meme’s feelings chart, but thanks to wise parenting she is already learning how to name her feelings.

The rest of us? Not necessarily great at naming our feelings. And when we do, we often forget how fleeting they are. After Igor completed his fifth step, his big feelings about Boris slipped away, shed without any conscious choosing on Igor’s part.

Feelings are trying to get our attention but they are not designed to make our decisions. Igor’s big feelings ultimately served to drive him to some needed self-reflection. Soon he had other issues to address that were far more his responsibility than beleaguered Boris.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…

~Psalm 30:11, NIV

God does not use magic wands to do his work. He does, however, provide us with inspired ways of seeing and the tools necessary for us to join him in his work - healing the world, one soul at a time.

Today, what would it look like for you to participate in your own healing? Not to avoid anything, but to identify and address your limitations that are being revealed as you notice and tend to your emotions.

Hold your reactions accountable

I am an admirer of Byron Katie’s work. She has a method of self-inquiry that involves asking the question, “Is it true?” Her system helps the inquirer test their thoughts and feelings for veracity. Obviously, the theory is that our thoughts and feelings are NOT always true.

She wrote a children’s book called “Tiger, Tiger, is it true?” and my grandson loves it. In the story, Tiger Tiger wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. He hops out of bed, lands on a toy truck and goes flying. He decides in that moment that he is going to have a lousy day and the day does not disappoint. Several events happen that support his theory. Fortunately, his friend Turtle introduces him to the Byron Katie system and by story’s end Tiger Tiger has learned to turn his thoughts around. The book illustrates some important points about our thought life, including:

Just because I think it does not mean it is true. Thoughts come and go.

A while back Pete and I had to replace our sewer line. It was a big, expensive, and inconvenient project. It messed up our beautiful lawn and threatened to damage a newly installed sprinkler system. Pete and I were kind of bummed until we chose to take our lemons and make lemonade - a phrase I usually find cliched and annoying until I actually use it. We had points about to expire for a free room with Marriott. They had a room available at their location down in the Shockoe Bottom so we locked that stinky house and headed downtown. We dined at a lovely restaurant sitting on the patio in perfect weather. (How many days do we get that in RVA?) We walked in the city. We had access to a functioning bathroom. We both worked intentionally to turn our thoughts around about the mess at home; the effort was worth it.

No one could have done this work for us. We are responsible for checking our thoughts for accuracy, choosing from a myriad of equally true but different perspectives that will result in changed ways of thinking and even feeling. Our choices resulted in a perfect night out and the very fine team of a local company that repairs sewer lines had our home back to mostly normal by nightfall.

Our thoughts are not always our best work, but when we know that, we can pause to prepare and make different thoughts our highest priority (so long as we are not living in a fantasy world).