One Thing You Can Do with Legitimate Anger

One Thing You Can Do with Legitimate Anger

I have often been taught that anger is dangerous.

And it was – often because I kept it pent up. And then I’d explode.

Another reason anger could be dangerous for me was because the people who were violating me – the cause of the anger – were gaslighting me and trying to make me think that I was the problem. They’d act like I was crazy to be as angry as I was. And, of course, by the time I blew up, they actually had a point.

Which not only fueled the anger even more, it also made me feel deeply ashamed.

And anger IS dangerous… if we don’t respond to it in a healthy way.

The thing I’ve learned about anger is that it often comes from an unmet need.

In my case, I needed my dignity respected. As a child, and even as an adult, I needed my needs taken into consideration.

Having grown up in a family riddled with addiction, in many relationships those needs were not being met.

And as a child, I was powerless to do much about that, but as an adult, I am not.

I AM powerless over whether any one person meets those needs.

But I’m NOT powerless over whether or not I seek out relationships that meet those needs, and how long I stay in any relationship, be it friendly or romantic, where those needs aren’t being met.

Nevertheless, this can be tricky for many of us.

One reason this can be tricky is, at least for me, my default reaction to my needs not getting met is to feel unworthy. Less than. Not good enough.

And when that happens, it’s the pain of those feelings that drives my anger, not the pain of the unmet need.

The difference is important; the pain over these feelings is NOT the same as the pain of not getting my needs met.

The pain of feeling unworthy keeps me stuck. More specifically, it keeps me stuck trying to change people, places, and situations I am actually powerless to change. And that is one helluva recipe for hopelessness.

On the other hand, the (unadulterated) pain of not getting my needs met – as long as I allow myself to feel it and move through it – is much more likely to compel me to take action to change the things I can.

It’s also more likely to compel me to look at my part. Did I have unrealistic expectations of someone or something? I’m more likely to see that if I’m not stuck in old narratives.

So, for me, to move through anger in a healthy way requires me to feel the essential pain of the situation, rather than the pain of the wounding stories the situation may have triggered.

Now, getting out of those old narratives so we don’t keep interpreting things that hurt or anger us in ways that keep us stuck is a different story. I’m going to share one way to do that in my next post.

Until then, I’d like to hear from you. Are there places where you recognize that old narratives are keeping you stuck in old wounding stories? Or, on the flip side, where have you been able to re-frame those stories so you can more effectively address unmet needs?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

Step 2 and Your Relationship to Power

Step 2 and Your Relationship to Power

I don’t know about you, but I really struggled with the spiritual basis of the Twelve Step program.

Fortunately for me, and I suspect for many of us, I was desperate.

And I was also hearing people tell my story. And for the first time, I knew I wasn’t alone.

I understand today that that experience right there IS an experience of a Power greater than myself, but I didn’t see it that way at the time.

So I want to talk about one of my blocks, just in case it could be helpful to you.

My biggest block to the spiritual basis for this program was my relationship to power. More specifically, this block was my experience with people in my life who had power over me.

Needless to say, those people did NOT use the power they had over me in loving ways.

Which meant that coming to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity was a huge leap. It was a chasm I struggled for a long time to cross.

If you’re facing this chasm, here are some suggestions for making the leap.

  1. Pay specific attention to people who do loving things for you.
  2. Write that shiz down!
  3. Collect all these notes in a box, or keep them all in a notebook.

Do the same thing for any kind of small blessings, and of course big miracles, that happen in your day-to-day life. Pay attention to them. Write these occurrences down. Collect them all in that same box or notebook.

Then regularly go back to that box and read them aloud.

This practice is what I call a God file. And it does wonders the for the negative subconscious messages that sabotage the spiritual work we’re trying to do in this program.

(In fact, as your coach, it’s important for me to insist on the reading aloud part, especially if you can do it with emotion – that’s what makes it so beautiful for reprogramming the subconscious!)

If you’ve ever heard of a Happiness Jar, this is a similar concept. But it’s important to call it a God File – or Higher Power File if you prefer because we’re using it to learn to trust that Power.

So, now I’d like to hear from you. What actions have you taken to help you better trust in a Higher Power? Share them in the comments below. I read every one.

What Einstein Taught Me About Step 3

What Einstein Taught Me About Step 3

I was in grad school when I first got into recovery. One of the challenges I had in those early days was reconciling my heady intellectual pursuits with the spiritual process of the Twelve Steps.

I especially struggled with what it meant to decide to turn your will and your life over to the God of your understanding.

But then I read a daily meditation on Step 3 in Al-Anon’s “Courage to Change” daily reader that ended with a quote by Albert Einstein.

That quote really fascinated me and became a bridge between my intellectual pursuits and the spiritual journey of the Twelve Steps. I found it especially relevant since it seemed like so many of my intellectual insights when I was writing my term papers or even my dissertation seemed to come out of nowhere, almost like magic.

So, I became really interested in Einstein. And fortunately, since I was required to take a second foreign language as my degree requirements (I was already studying French,) an advanced German composition class I was taking required us to write a composition on a native German speaker.

I chose Einstein.

Most people are probably familiar with Einstein’s famous formula: E=MC² (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.)

What many people may not know, or what I didn’t know, at least, was the incredible thing that Einstein had discovered about the nature of light.

Einstein discovered that light is both a particle and a wave.

According to the classic laws of physics, this is not supposed to be possible.

And yet it’s true. What Einstein discovered about light laid the groundwork for what we now call quantum physics. Because light isn’t the only thing that behaves this way.

So, what does this have to do with Step 3?

Well, when I learned this about Einstein, I started thinking about what was necessary to make this incredible discovery possible. Hint: It wasn’t his incredible intellect. (Not to mention, when he was young, Einstein was failing math.)

In order to follow where his research was leading him, Einstein had to let go of everything he thought he knew about energy and matter. Everything we still think we know about energy and matter.

And that’s what brings me to Step 3.

For me, making a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God is a decision to let go of everything I think I know.

Because my best thinking is what got me into these rooms.

So here are a few of the greatest hits of what I thought I knew when I walked into the rooms of 12-Step recovery:

  • My addicted loved ones had to change/recover in order for me to be okay.
  • I have no valuable skills. (That was the nice way to put it. What I was honestly saying to myself was that I was a sorry excuse for a human being.)
  • Recovery wouldn’t work for me.
  • God is a terrorist.

I rarely can explain how or why, but I do know that the magic that happens when I make a decision to let go of the things I think I know is truly quantum.

So now I’d like to hear from you. What did you think you knew when you walked into the rooms that turned out not to be true? What are the things that you still think you know that maybe you need to let go of?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

A New Take on Step 10

A New Take on Step 10

I used to think that Step 10 had the be THE. LEAST. SEXY. of all the 12 Steps. First of all, there was no drama in it. Not like Steps 4, 5, or 9.

Second, it assured us that even after we had completed an inventory and made amends we would continue to be wrong.

The thought that I would continue to be wrong was actually quite scary for me because in my family of origin, and even in many relationships in my adulthood, being wrong made me a target for emotional abuse.

That meant that I had to establish a new relationship with my humanity, and, more importantly, with this step.

The truth is, working this step has allowed me to embrace my humanity even more than Steps 4-9.

The fact is, I now look at this step as the very definition of perfection. If I address my wrongs in a timely manner, then I’m doing the absolute best that I can do. It doesn’t get better than that. It really doesn’t.

But wait, there’s more!

I’ve come to discover that this step is, in many ways, a sleeper step. There’s so much more to it than meets the eye.

I came to this realization when I was volunteered to speak on this step. For the reasons stated above, I had never actually chosen to talk on this step.

As I let the thought of sharing on this step simmer in my mind, a Native American AA speaker by the name of Don C. came to mind.

Don C. talked about how in his Native American spiritual practices, they put the Steps in a circle. The idea of putting the Steps in a circle made me think about my own spiritual work which I do around the phases of the moon.

So, I thought, if the steps are in a circle and I think of their positioning as representing the phases of the moon, then Step 10 would represent a quarter moon.

Now, spiritually, quarter moons represent moments of instability, so I asked myself if being at Step 10 in our Step work could also represent a moment o instability.

After thinking about it, my conclusion was “Oh my flipping God, YES!”

As one of the maintenance Steps, one of the messages of Step 10 is to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

But here’s where things can get quite unstable.

If we have earnestly completed the previous 9 Steps, we are going to be feeling an incredible amount of freedom. I mean, the promises in the Big Book show up in the middle of Step 9 for a reason. Doing the inventory and completing our amends bring about incredible blessings to those who do the work.

However, the reason Step 10 represents a moment of instability is that, because of the freedom, peace and all kinds of other good feelings that come from completing amends, much of the pain that had motivated us to take the previous 9 Steps will have been removed.

This totally unglamorous and unsexy step says to keep doing the work we’ve been doing anyway.

And it’s incredibly important that we do.

At this point, we have put our lives in the hands of the God of our understanding. And if we’re “even halfway through” our amends, we’ve gained a tremendous amount of spiritual momentum with God at the wheel.

So, what happens to any vehicle going at a respectable speed if someone yanks the wheel away?

It spins out of control.

Which means that Step 10 contains a warning. We need to keep the God of our understanding at the wheel of our lives by continuing to do the things that had already brought us so much healing.

Freedom from pain, guilt, and shame does not mean putting ourselves back in charge.

But Step 10 also contains a promise.

Each time one of my meetings discusses Step 12, I’m always so heartened by the fact that even people who have only completed Step 1 can nevertheless speak of spiritual awakenings happening in their lives.

Without diminishing the power and importance of those early spiritual awakenings by any means, I think it is important nevertheless to acknowledge that the Steps do not promise a spiritual awakening until Step 12.

To me, the fact that the Steps do not speak of a spiritual awakening until the twelfth Step means the specific spiritual awakening referred in Step 12 is of an entirely different order than anything we will have experienced before that Step.

And so I believe the ultimate importance and the final message of Step 10 is this: Don’t give up before that miracle happens.

Now I’d like to hear from you: what blessings have you experienced working this Step? Are there other “sleeper” messages that you have discovered in this step?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

P.S. If you need help with your daily inventory practice, I’ve created a new and improved Daily Inventory Journal with Coaching Exercises to support you in this incredibly important work. Check it out HERE.

The Surprising Relationship Between Resentment and Procrastination

The Surprising Relationship Between Resentment and Procrastination

I wanted to title this post “The Surprising Relationship Between Forgiveness and Productivity,” but I thought, if you’ve suffered from procrastination like I have, then pointing out forgiveness’ beneficent effects on procrastination might feel more useful to you.

So let me share a little bit of my experience.

I’ve struggled to consistently pursue my dreams. I’ve done it in fits and starts. One of the reasons for this is the significant amount of often very subtle emotional abuse I experienced growing up.

My family is profoundly affected by addiction and family addiction, and one of the ways these dynamics play out is to undermine, and at times outright emotionally crush, anyone who’s “getting a little too big for their britches.”

I’ve been in family recovery for 16 years now, and I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of healing around this. But one thing that stuck with me for a long time was thinking that achieving a dream or reaching a goal would somehow show up all the people who had tried to keep me down.

Denial is a funny thing because, with all that experience in family recovery, it took me a long time to realize that thinking my achievements were somehow going to “show them” meant that my actions were still revolving around them. In other words, I was keeping the focus on others and not on myself.

I have a dear friend in recovery who does vision cards (like a vision board, but just one idea/image per card.) I was privileged to be able to make vision cards with her for the people on our 4th step lists. These cards were a visual representation of praying that everything I want for myself to be given to these people on my list, just like it suggests in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d write their name on one side of the card, and put an image representing what I want for them on the other.

I started meditating on these cards almost every morning, and wouldn’t you know! I have become much more productive and consistent in the process. I am much better at nipping procrastination in the bud.

Not that I should be surprised. I mean, wouldn’t a loving Higher Power want me to use my goals and my dreams to fill my heart up, rather than nurse a resentment?

But this level of resentment for me was a layer deep within the proverbial onion. There were other layers that needed to be released before I could recognize this one. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly freeing to be released from it.

So now I’d like to hear from you. Is there a particular goal you are pursuing from which a resentment is holding you back? If so, how might get support for letting it go so you can be freer to pursue your dreams?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.