Day 24

…continued from Day 22…

In order to learn something from our outbursts, we need to be willing to rigorously examine ourselves in the aftermath. If we assume we were in the right and the other person was in the wrong, there is nothing to be gained. In (almost) any fight, both parties are wrong, though to varying degrees. One party may have more stuff to own than the other, but this does not mean the person with less has permission to avoid self-examination.

We ask ourselves, “Where did I go wrong?” “In what ways did I contribute to the mess?” In other words, we start with the assumption that we did contribute and then work our way backwards towards the truth.

If we begin with the assumption that we weren’t wrong and did not contribute to the mess, we will struggle to find evidence to the contrary.

 

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Day 23

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will thank you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will talk about all your wonderful acts.
2 I will celebrate and rejoice in you;
I will sing praises to your name, Most High.

~ Psalm 9:1-2, CEB

Day 22

From yesterday, on the importance of avoiding complacency: Over time, we actively pursue new areas and skill sets, but we don’t stop the pursuit [of recovery]. Remaining alert means that we can acknowledge progress as long as we acknowledge that we must also continue the work.

Ultimately, this is the gift of recovery. As sobriety from the area of our unmanageability requires less focus, then our capacity to focus on other areas increases. We are free, in other words, to address smaller problems with how we are living our lives.

There is no issue too small to address. Whatever issues we have at a moment in time are the issues worth addressing. At the end of the day, we are the lives we lead. Our lives are the compilation of the choices we’ve made, the character we’ve developed, etc.

If we simply relax and take our hands off the wheel, well, I wonder…are we living?

Day 21

From Day 17: I suppose the most pressing question we have after the first 15 days is: How do we stop trying to regain control in such destructive ways?

The past few days we’ve talked about attentiveness and the ways in which this helps us trace our reactions to their source. This is the beginning of the process of learning to respond to triggers as opposed to reacting to them.

A similar-sounding, though quite distinct, skill involves remaining alert. What do I mean by this?

What I’ve been describing this month, so far, is a “deep track” of recovery work. It’s not an area we address early on. It’s something that comes later in the process as we gain some stability. Stability, for all its merits, creates problems. It affords us the opportunity to relax, to settle in, and to breathe. We need this. But if we stretch this too far we become disengaged and complacent.

Remaining alert means refusing to believe that, “we have arrived,” that “we have gotten somewhere,” or that “we have progressed.” At the very least, we refuse to believe that we have progressed to the point where we no longer need to actively pursue our recovery.

Over time, we actively pursue new areas and skill sets, but we don’t stop the pursuit. Remaining alert means that we can acknowledge progress as long as we acknowledge that we must continue the work.

Day 20

Tip: Read days 17-19 before reading today.

If the son is not attentive to himself, and has done very little work, then a question from his partner about cleanliness will likely lead to an explosive reaction. Overtime he’s learned to associate his mother’s standard of cleanliness (which he later attaches to any conversation about cleanliness) with a deep internal sense that he has no value, that he’s a burden on others, that he is a failure, that he’s inherently damaged, that he’s completely misunderstood, or some other core message. In this case, an innocuous question (from the partner’s perspective) can lead very quickly to a conversation about whether or not this relationship is even worth continuing.

Triggers don’t mean that a person is weak or stupid or overly sensitive. Triggers are merely things that remind us of our baggage. If we’ve dealt with our baggage, triggers are not necessarily overly disruptive. If we haven’t deal with our baggage, they wreak havoc.

We require attentiveness in order to discern what kinds of conversations or events create unnecessarily large reactions within us. If we’re able to recognize these reactions when they happen, then we can begin to parse out the root of these reactions.

This is the beginning of learning to choose new and different responses.

Day 19

Make sure to read days 17 and 18 before reading today.

The trigger in our example is the mother’s voicing of something related to the son’s cleanliness. Because of the nature of their relationship, the son explodes on his mother in reaction to his trigger. The reaction in this circumstance is loud, external, aggressive. It’s also something that, to the son, feels justified.

But triggers also translate to other relationships and this is where they begin to get tricky. Let’s say the son has a girlfriend, wife, spouse, roommate, partner, etc. Let’s say the the son and his partner have a history of a wonderfully healthy and mutually respectful relationship. Let’s say the partner one day says, “Hey, since we’ve got company coming in this weekend would you mind picking up the dirty clothes next to your side of the bed and I’ll do the same?” How does the son respond?

It depends on many factors, including how attentive he is to himself and how much work he has done. If he’s aware that, given his history, requests for cleanliness are always going to sound like harsh critiques then he may be aware that he has to suppress the experience of a trigger in order to choose an appropriate response to his partner. He may find that his internal reaction is angry, he may feel like his stomach is in a knot, he may feel uncomfortable.

If he’s done some good work with a support system to process and deal with his issues, and attentive has learned to be attentive to himself, he may have the capacity to resist an accidental release of tension. Instead, he may say, “Sure, I’ll get this stuff cleaned up.”

Day 18

We’re using a few days to discuss the nature of triggers. What, exactly, does a trigger look like?

For instance, consider a mother says to a son who is visiting home for Christmas, “Would you like me to do your laundry?” The son immediately loses his temper and calls his mother an overly controlling b-word.

Her offer, on the surface, seems sincere, even kind. But what if I told you the son is 45 years old? What if I told you that this mother regularly calls him a “disgusting slob” because he wears t-shirts when he’s not at work as opposed to the button-downs that his mother tells him “a true man wears”? What if I told you that his mother regularly tells him that he’ll never be married if he doesn’t shave off his “nasty” beard?

Context is king. The son’s response to his mother is way out of proportion considering what is happening strictly on the surface: an offer to do laundry. The son is “triggered” by what is going on beneath the surface: a lifetime of being chastised by his mother because she believes he doesn’t adequately take care of himself and has no qualms about shaming him about this.