In his book Lost in the Shuffle Robert Subby describes one of the ‘rules’ of the co-dependent family:
It’s not ok to talk about or express feelings openly
When we live by this rule we come to believe that our feeling are bad or wrong. As a result we shut them down and become ‘cut off from ourselves.’
By the time I finally quit drinking I was so emotionally detached from myself it took another 10 years to uncover the ‘why’s’ and ‘wherefores’ of why I was drinking in the first place.
The drinking soothed the panic attacks, anxiety, fear, insomnia, and constant turmoil of indecision that comes from identity loss as a result of being divorced from self.
The real ‘me’ was trapped deep inside, sometimes it literally felt like she was beating on my inner extremities begging to be let out.
I realized that I had left her, wounded, a long time ago.
Today I have decided to come back to her, to listen to her, and to love her.
She is important
She is me.
James 1:6-8 describes the doubter as ‘double minded’ and ‘like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.’
Worriers (like me) frequently feel this way because we entertain irrational fears that can hinder clear decision making.
As I was having one of my ‘irrational meditation sessions’ God brought the Serenity Prayer to mind:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
I was spending so much time worrying about the things I couldn’t change (Bob hates me) that I was missing the opportunity to change the things I could (ask Bob how he feels).
The more I’d obsess over what I couldn’t change, the more fear and anxiety would paralyze me. Meanwhile, the things I could change would gradually slip into the abyss of missed opportunities and regrets.
What I’ve described is another version of ‘paralysis by analysis’ which is an occasional occurrence for everyone. When it’s a daily occurrence it can cause a lot of problems like anxiety, insomnia, addiction, and relapse.
Praying the serenity prayer can bring peace of mind, acceptance, clarity, and courage.
Pursuing ‘good character’ so we can get along better in life is a good thing. Pursuing ‘good character’ to please God is nobler than the pursuit of it for earthly rewards.
But pursuing good character because it’s something to be desired in itself is the best. (12 steps and 12 traditions PG 72)
Good character comes easy for me when things are going my way; when I’ve had proper sleep and been well fed. It’s more difficult when things aren’t going as I planned; or I’m hungry, tired and stressed.
Even more difficult is when my efforts at pursuing goodness are not rewarded, or they’re met with malice. It is then that I have to examine my motives and realize that my ‘pursuit of goodness’ had linked to it an expectation.
Matthew 5:45 tells us that God …. “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
When the payoff of goodness is the ultimate goal we will often be disappointed. When goodness itself is the ultimate goal I believe the ‘payoffs’ will come naturally as we experience Gods peace with no strings attached.
It’s getting to that place that’s the hard part.
In her book Give Yourself a Break Kim Fredrickson describes self-esteem as: assessing ourselves in a positive way often in comparison to others… “I only feel good if I’m special or better than someone else.”
When our worth as a person comes from the ‘outside in’ it can lead to all kinds of emotional problems like depression, self-pity, and free floating anxiety because we simply can’t control everybody’s opinion of (or reaction to) us. Attempting to constantly ‘earn’ their approval can eventually lead us to lose our own identity in the process.
The way out of this trap is to practice humility as well as self-compassion which Kim conveys as: a balance of truth (yes I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address this mistake directly).
Christian counselor Stephen Arterburn characterizes humility as: …an attitude in which we see ourselves in totality, the good and bad parts… as neither the best nor the worst, just as human… admitting the negative as well as the positive is a sign of authenticity. We become real with God and with ourselves.
Therefore, practicing humility and self-compassion can actually help heal our ‘self-esteem.’
What an amazing paradox.
After my brother died I went through a difficult time. Life seemed to lose its meaning and many of the things I’d been holding so tightly began to slip from my grip as I contemplated the usefulness of everything I was striving for.
A friend of mine shared a song by Nichole Nordeman and the chorus seemed to put a melody to my pain:
This is the unmaking
Beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
to find out who you are
Before each beginning
there must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
Sometimes grief, turmoil, and tragedy bring about moments of clarity that cut through the superficial; we see the true meaning of life and realize that honoring those we love and being in the center of Gods will is all that matters.
It’s only after ‘The Unmaking’ that God can rebuild us. It’s when we’re surrounded by the epiphany of the emptiness of our pursuits that we look up with real honesty and transparency.
And sometimes (just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son) God doesn’t plan to take anything from us, He just needs us to have a heart that’s willing to let it go.
Sometimes I feel like to many things have been filed under the ‘I’ll get to it someday category; with my abundance of ‘some days’ dwindling and the ‘I’ll get to its’ multiplying.
So many fish to fry in a fire full of irons on a plate that’s too full has me feeling overwhelmed.
Was it God’s plan that I accomplish everything? Did He want me to feel guilty for not responding to every email, tweet, LinkedIn request, Facebook post, or phone call?
Of course not, the unnecessary pressure I put on myself was stealing my joy.
2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
I have decided to complete every task I can manage in a day, and do it with joy! Then, let go of the things I can’t, and stop feeling guilty about it.
I don’t think God’s upstairs keeping score. If we seek him, He’ll validate our decisions.
How often I have cried out: “Lord, please help me!”
All the while knowing the ball in my court was being blocked by pride and fear.
I memorized every curve of the phone the morning I held it 2 hours before mustering up the courage to call and ask for help to quit drinking.
My husband often tells me about the time he fell to his knees on the bathroom floor after seeing his nearly 320 pound self in the mirror, and how heavy the door of the gym felt when he finally opened it.
Today he’s 130 pounds lighter and over 12 years sober and he’ll tell you what caused this amazing transformation: humility and courage. Rivals pride and fear convince us we can manage the pain by ourselves.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
Therefore, if humility is a virtue, (and I believe it is) we need to pray for the courage to ‘humbly’ take the necessary action to be victorious over our struggles and addictions.