Sacrifice and Rebuilding.

Sometimes recovery asks us to essentially build a new life. 

To be, essentially, an entirely new person. 

That’s a tall order. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of people get so intimidated at the prospect of recovery. 

We don’t know if we can build a new life. And we’re not at all sure we can be a new person. 

What would that even look like? 

Sometimes we try to compromise. We think, you know what, even if some of the people and stations in my current life contributed significantly to my depression, addiction, or trauma, I think I can swing still being involved with them or having them in my life. I’ll figure it out!

…and then we get frustrated when we get sucked back into our old patterns. 

Let me spoil neuropsychology for you: our brains REALLY, REALLY like established patterns. 

When given the choice, our brains will ALWAYS prefer old patterns to new, unfamiliar, unpracticed ones. 

I WISH we could build a recovery, and still keep certain people and situations in our lives. But we can’t. 

But, you might be thinking, I know someone who DID that! They just MODERATED their use of a substance; they just CHANGED their relationship with their family member; they just SET SOME LIMITS with their coworkers. 

Good for them. They’re not you. 

We don’t know what we don’t know about other peoples’ situations or struggles. 

Don’t guesstimate what you can handle or what’s right for you, based on what you see of others’ journey. 

The truth is, sometimes entire relationships have to go. 

Sometimes entire work situations aren’t tenable. 

Sometimes the only contact we can handle, is no contact. 

Sometimes a substance or behavior can’t be part of our life, in any way. 

We are talking loss here, and our brain doesn’t like to process loss. We will tell ourselves almost anything to avoid losing things, people, or situations that we’re used to. We will lie to ourselves all day long to avoid certain kinds of loss. 

But we’re not just talking loss. We’re talking, specifically, sacrifice. 

Giving something up to gain something. 

Your recovery from depression, addiction, or trauma, is really, really important. Your life and functioning matters. 

You, as a person, matter. It’s not just a bullsh*t psychology meme. I am writing this because I believe that you, the human being reading this, make a difference in the world, and I want you to feel good and function well. 

Our recovery is important enough that it warrants certain sacrifices. 

Even some big sacrifices. 

I hear you. Building or rebuilding something, sometimes from scratch, is often scary and overwhelming and unfamiliar and it can really, really make us feel helpless and hopeless. 

But people do it. 

People choose recovery. 

They choose sacrifice. 

They build something different. Something sustainable. They build a life worth living, even from the ashes and rubble of what was their life. 

The people who do this are not superhuman. 

They’re just like you. 

You can do this. 

Do the hard thing. Stay in the game. Build something new. 

Then come find me, and tell me about it. 

Starting to develop a real sense of “self.”

How do we develop a strong, stable sense of self, when we were never given the space to really be our own person? 

Lots of people have the experience of growing up without the support necessary to really learn who they even are. 

When we’re young, we don’t have a strong sense of self. We look to others to determine what a human person even is. 

Over time, with the appropriate support, we individuate— we slowly evolve a sense of personal identity that is independent of our caregivers, our siblings, and our peers. 

We realize that we have perceptions, experiences, interests, and goals that are unique. We realize that we aren’t extensions of the people around us. 

In the best of all worlds, we’re encouraged to do this. We’re rewarded for doing this. 

With the right mentorship and support, we go on to build a sense of self that we value enough to protect and nurture. 

Thing is, a lot of us don’t get that support. 

A lot of us didn’t have the breathing room, let alone the mentorship and support, to develop a sense of self. 

Maybe we were even punished, in little or big ways, for becoming our own person. 

Becoming our own person as a kid is an intimidating thing. We don’t know how to do it. We need examples. We need encouragement. We need safety. 

And when we don’t get it, we often assume that it’s our fault. 

What’s wrong with us, we ask ourselves, that we didn’t get that support that we needed? 

Over time we often just decide we must not be “worthy” enough to be our own person. 

We must not be strong enough. We must not be smart enough. 

The truth of the matter, however, is that it has nothing to do with strength or intelligence; no matter how strong or smart we are, we can’t give OURSELVES what we need at that crucial developmental point. 

After all, we were just kids. 

How the hell were we supposed to know what was going on, or what we needed? 

We needed attentive, responsive adults to show us what to do. 

We didn’t need the adults around us to be perfect— but we did need them to be, well, adults. 

So we grow up without a strong, stable sense of self. And very often we blame ourselves. 

Fast forward to adulthood, when we have low self-esteem and a shaky sense of self— and a feeling of inferiority and guilt about the whole thing. 

Where do we even begin to put the pieces back together? 

We start with acknowledging that what we experienced was not our fault. 

The fact that we’re struggling now, as adults, is not evidence of inferiority or stupidity or weakness. 

We were dealt the hand we were dealt. We didn’t ask for any of it. 

All we can do is what we can do— start where we are, with what we have. 

Those examples of how to be a strong, stable individual? We can seek them out now. 

The mentorship we needed? We can see it out now. 

The developmental tasks that were on our plate then, are still on our plate now. They’re not going away, and there’s no skipping over them. 

So let’s get to work. 

Now is not then. 

Let’s do what we CAN do— now. 

Getting our brain to look ahead, not backward.

Redirecting our focus after we’ve taken a hit usually isn’t a matter of will. It’s a matter of skill. 

Most everybody I’ve ever worked with desperately WANTS to be able to redirect their attention from the painful thing that happened in the past, to the productive thing they can do now. 

But it takes more than just willpower. 

We have to actually know how to DO it. 

The thing about our focus is, it’s usually drawn to the strongest stimulus. 

Our focus gets drawn to loud things, shiny things, attractive things. 

It also gets drawn to sad things, infuriating things, threatening things, and grotesque things. 

Whatever is most stimulating, grabs our attention. 

(If, like me, you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, your brain is so held hostage to these stimulating things that shifting your focus can be literally painful. I thought this was an overstatement until a psychiatrist called my attention to it, and it turns out to be literally true.) 

The problem with the last terrible thing to happen to us— or even terrible things that happened to us years ago— is that they are very stimulating. They’re emblazoned on our mind. 

If we screwed up, and we have a self-defeating belief structure that says “I ALWAYS SCREW UP WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME,” then our screw-ups hold our attention hostage as well. 

Focusing on the NEXT right thing— the thing we can do now, compared to the thing we can’t change because it’s in the past— isn’t as inherently stimulating or captivating as ruminating on the past, negative stuff. 

Our brain is wired for drama. 

Rebuilding isn’t dramatic. Usually it’s work. Often it’s boring. 

Especially if we have to start over from square one, it can be overwhelming and off-putting to think about. 

So OF COURSE our brain doesn’t want to focus on it. 

How do we overcome our brain’s reluctance to let go of the past, and focus on the next right thing? 

We have to coax it along. 

We have to learn to frame the next right thing as something that has the potential to feel good or be interesting. 

We have to visualize the next right thing making us feel 1% better. 

We have to talk to ourselves in a way that encourages us to look forward, not back. 

And more than anything, we need to gently, supportively redirect our focus forward, as many times as it takes. 

That’s where a lot of us get into trouble. 

We’re willing to redirect our focus once or twice— but more than that, and it starts to get old. 

The thing is, if we KEEP redirecting our focus from the unchangeable thing in our past, to the next realistic step we can take now, if we stay consistent with it, if we turn ourselves around EVERY SINGLE TIME we notice ourselves perseverating on the past…it’ll get easier. 

We’ll get better at it. 

In fact, we can make perseverating on the past our cue to refocus in the present, to identify the next right thing. 

In my own mind, I installed a music cue. When I feel my brain looking back on the past with chagrin, I play some movie music— the music that tells the audience the hero’s about to turn things around. 

I find it’s helpful to give my head a few quick shakes. To take a few breaths. To blink a few times— and come back to focus on the center of my chest. 

It used to be painful to have to go through all that just go get focused forward. 

Now it’s second nature. 

You can come up with your own ritual for looking forward. 

Just make sure you stay consistent and persistent with it. 

Your brain’s gonna try to stay stuck in the past, because that’s where it thinks color and drama exist. 

You need to use your imagination to convince it there’s color and drama— and victory— ahead. 

Why bother with recovery at all?

There is only one sane reason to be in recovery, to work on your emotional and behavioral struggles: to feel better. 

Not to please somebody else. Not because you “should.” 

The truth is, nobody HAS to be in recovery. 

Yeah, sometimes we’re pressured to work on our issues by an external situation— we want to keep our job, or we want to save a relationship, or we want to avoid a legal consequence. 

But the real reason any of those things are meaningful to us in the first place is because we want to feel good, and we want to avoid feeling bad. 

A lot of the stuff recovery asks of us is a huge pain in the ass. 

It asks us to not do stuff we want to do in the moment. 

It asks us to develop coping skills and tools that are often lame compared to what we REALLY want to do. 

Recovery asks us to set goals and make plans— and goal-setting and planning can often be intimidating or boring. 

When we get into recovery, some of the spontaneity is necessary sucked out of life. We have to think ahead, which we often don’t like to do— and we often kind of resent doing. 

Why bother with any of this “recovery” nonsense at all? 

There’s only one good reason: because working a recovery program will help us feel and function better. 

Feeling better has to be a realistic goal of recovery. 

If realistically feeling better isn’t on the table, recovery’s not gonna work. Our brain will reject it. 

Not only does feeling better have to be an explicit goal of recovery, the PATH to feeling better through our recovery plan has to be straightforward and believable. 

We can’t be like, “I’ll do all this stuff, change my behavior, direct my mental focus, make changes to my social circe and daily routines, and then…somehow…things will get better? I guess?” 

The stuff recovery asks of us is too difficult to NOT have a clear path to feeling better laid out. 

Then, when that path IS laid out, we need to remind ourselves, as many times as necessary, where that path will lead us. 

Recovery is not just about giving things up. It’s about gaining things we really want. 

Recovery is not just about working hard. It’s about enjoying— what a concept!— the rewards of our hard work. 

The temptation is going to be, when we’re designing and working a recovery program, to focus on all the things that need to change— which necessarily means focusing on a lot of work. 

In order to realistically recover from depression, anxiety, addiction, or trauma, we need to change a lot of our mental and behavioral habits— and those habits have been over rehearsed for a long time. 

We have literal grooves in our brain because we’ve been doing and thinking and feeling the same stuff, year after year, for decades. 

Changing our lives means changing our brain— and our brain does not WANT to change. 

Our brain specifically makes habit change painful, because it wants us to keep on keeping on. 

This is why recovery is such a pain. 

It’s also why we need to remember and focus on— intentionally, vividly, emphatically— the upside of why we are doing this. 

We need that new movie— the movie of what our better feeling, better functioning life will look and feel like— playing on the movie screen inside our head. 

We need to make that movie exciting and dramatic. 

We deserve to feel and function better. 

Which is why we deserve recovery. 

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Yup, we might be difficult to be close to. And?

I promise you: you won’t always be your best self. Neither am I. 

I mean, most of the time, we’ll try. You know, to be easy going and good natured and patient and kind. 

But…sometimes it’s just not gonna happen. 

We’re gonna be tired. We’re gonna be sore. We’re gonna be cranky. 

Sometimes we’re going to have limited emotional bandwidth due to something we’re dealing with. 

Sometimes we’ll be exhausted from having to repeatedly rein in our impulses and cravings. 

Sometimes we’ll be triggered by a person or situation, and before we know it we’ll be half down a rabbit hole of defensiveness or dissociation. 

Sometimes we’ll be under the influence of a substance. 

Any or all of these can contribute to us not being our “best self” for a moment or longer. 

I don’t list all these things as excuses for us not being the coolest, kindest versions of ourselves. They’re just realistic factors that help explain why we’re reacting to the world as we are. 

I know that I, personally, have been hard to like and hard to be close to sometimes. 

I know my ADHD has made me flake out on my friends and be an unreliable coworker in the past. it’s a bummer. 

I know my history of attachment trauma has made it difficult to be in romantic and sexual relationships with me. 

I know my depression has, likely, made me a bit of a bummer to be around sometimes. 

It can be really easy for us to take a look at our relationship struggles, many of which can stem from our personal history or our emotional challenges, and conclude that we’re just…broken. Unlikeable. Maybe even unlovable. 

Here’s the thing, though: we don’t get to decide for other people whether we are likable or lovable. 

And we definitely don’t get to define for the entire human species what defines a “worthwhile” person. 

Many of us have been in the position of wondering why some of the people in our lives stick with us, even in what should be our most unlikable moments. 

Sometimes we even get paranoid or skeptical about people who claim to be with us in the long haul— how can they POSSIBLY mean it, given that we are so frustrating to relate to? 

What we can’t see, this close up to the equation, is that we are MORE than our struggles. 

Even in relationships, we are MORE than even the very legitimate frustrations we can cause for our friends, partners, and colleagues. 

Yes, there may be a subset of people whose closeness to us is determined by the proportion of positive to negative experiences they have with us. Yes, we’re going to lose some people along the way— though we need to keep in mind that even “normal” relationships with “normal” people are often fleeting and fragile for various reasons. 

We need to remember that emotional struggles like depression and behavioral struggles like addiction loom INCREDIBLY large for us— sometimes they’re the only things that we can think about. 

But others aren’t in our head. They’re not as suffocated by those struggles as we are. 

Others can see what we bring to the table beyond our pain or our problems. 

Others can see potential that we often can’t. 

Make no mistake: not everyone is going to see us fairly, or accurately, or compassionately. 

But because we happen to hate ourselves doesn’t mean everyone is required to hate us too. 

Because we feel like giving up on ourselves doesn’t mean others are required to give up on us. 

So we’re not our best selves sometimes. maybe even often. Welcome to being human. 

We’re always responsible for our behavior. We can’t just blow it off and say, “eh, nobody’s perfect.” 

But we have to be realistic: our feelings about ourselves are not facts— and they don’t have to be shared by anybody else. 

Others get to love us, no matter how we feel about ourselves. 

Others get to like us, no matter how we feel about ourselves. 

And others get to value us, no matter how worthless we might feel. 

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Refuse to abandon yourself. No matter what.

Growing up, we are taught to abandon ourselves in lots of subtle ways. 

We’re taught to reject certain feelings.

We’re taught that certain thoughts and fantasies are “bad.” 

We’re taught that we are only acceptable or lovable if we conform to certain other people’s idea of what is acceptable and lovable. 

When we’re taught over and over again that we have to “earn” the right to be loved, it sets us up for a life time of self-judgment and self-abandonment…not because we’re intentionally trying to judge or abandon ourselves, but because that’s the only thing we know. 

When I tell people that they don’t have to “earn” the right to be loved, they really do look at me weird. 

Hell, people look at me weird when I tell them they don’t have to “earn” the right to exist. 

That’s how pervasive that particular belief is in our culture. 

Can you imagine telling a little baby that they have to “earn” the right to exist or the right to be loved? 

No matter what you have or haven’t achieved in your life, you are not a waste of space or oxygen. 

Who convinced us that we are only “worthy” to live if we happen to contribute specific things to the world? 

Don’t get me wrong: I like to feel that I’m contributing to the world. It feels good. I like to feel I’m making a difference in peoples’ lives. 

But I’m here to tell you that you are worthy no matter what you do or don’t contribute. 

We can contribute to other people and the world because it feels good— not because we’re trying to “earn” our “right” to consume space and oxygen. 

There was a time when I was too flat on my back depressed to contribute ANYTHING to ANYONE. 

These days I have more opportunities to contribute to people’s lives than I did back then— but is that to say the Glenn of 2021 is more “worthy” than the Glenn of 1997? 

The Glenn of 1997 would agree with that. 

The Glenn of 2021 does not. 

When we’re depressed, we very often feel unworthy. We very often fall into the trap of believing we haven’t “earned” the space we take up in the world. We feel like a waste of space. 

I promise you: you are not a waste of space. 

Do not reject and abandon yourself by telling yourself you are a waste of space, because it just ain’t true. 

We are not put here on this earth to achieve stuff. We’re not put here to live out anybody else’s fantasy about who and what we “should” be or do. 

Every single person reading this gets to decide WHY they’re here. 

Nobody reading this has to feel guilty that they didn’t live up to someone else’s standards of fantasies. 

I hear you: we all want to imagine certain people being proud of us, approving of us, liking us. 

I want that, too. It often feels good to live a life we can imagine certain people approving of.

When someone’s values are consistent with ours, living a life we imagine they’d approve of can be a signifier to us that we’re doing it right. 

It’s just really important that we don’t conflate something feeling GOOD with something being a signifier of our existential worth. 

We do not have to reject or abandon ourselves. 

We do not have to fall into the conditional worthiness trap. 

We can have our own back regardless of how we feel about ourselves at the moment. 

Yes, it’s hard. It’s MUCH easier to have our own back, to be compassionate toward and accepting of ourselves, when we feel that our lives are going well and to plan. 

But it’s when our lives AREN’T going so well that we really, really NEED to be there for ourselves. 

Self-esteem begins with refusing to reject or abandon ourselves— no matter what. 

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You get to choose who you are.

I strongly believe that we get to reinvent our life if we want to. 

Yes, significantly changing our life— including our appearance, priorities, the way we present to the world, our behavior, our living space, whatever— might impact other people…and those people, of course, have the right to have feelings about it. 

But no one gets to tell us we “have” to stay the same person with the same life just because they prefer it. 

One of the reasons a lot of people choose to NOT change is because we don’t want to deal with the blowback rom other people. 

Other people like us to keep being who we are. They want us to remain known quantities. being a known quantity makes it easier to predict and control our behavior. 

The thing is, when you don’t like who you are— what you look like, what you do, the situations and opportunities in your life, the people in your life— it doesn’t particularly matter if other people like who you are. 

We are in our skin, inside our head, 24/7. It really, really matters whether we like it in here. 

There are PLENTY of people who will tell you it DOESN’T matter if you like yourself or your life. 

Lots of people consider it not terribly important whether we “like” our experience, as long as we DO the things we’re “supposed” to do in life. 

But who gets to decide what we’re “supposed” to do? 

Yes, we have certain responsibilities. Parents shouldn’t just abandon their kids because they don’t “like” being parents (though there are obviously parents who do that). If we have a job, we have certain responsibilities to our employer that we agreed to. 

But in my experience, many people think that their responsibilities extend beyond the commitments they’ve made to people who depend on them, like children or employers or coworkers. 

Many people think they have a “responsibility” to continue being someone whose life they don’t enjoy living. 

I feel just the opposite. 

I feel we have a responsibility TO OURSELVES to create a life we actually DO like. 

I think pleasure, fun, enjoyment— those aren’t incidentals or luxuries. I think they are psychological needs. 

I think it IS our responsibility to figure out how we can incorporate positive emotional experiences into our lives in non-destructive ways. 

We have a responsibility to ourselves to create a life worth living. 

The truth is, our human experience is far more flexible than we think. 

We often think that we have to keep doing the same stuff, because we’ve BEEN doing the same stuff. 

We think we have to keep being the person we are, because that’s the person we’ve BEEN. 

It’s true that we OFTEN keep being the same person with the same life…but that’s mostly because the stuff we do is kind of sandblasted into our brain in the form of conditioned neural pathways. 

We can change not only what we do, but who we are…but it takes time. Those neural pathways are resistant to change, and it takes a minute. 

Changing who we are takes vision and consistency and patience. We’re often fighting an uphill battle against well-worn pathways in our brain and well-rehearsed routines in our life. 

But people change. People change their whole life, their whole identity. It happens every year, every day. 

I strongly feel it’s our birthright to choose who we are. 

Even if other people want to take that birthright away for their own comfort and convenience. 

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“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

We are always the boss of ourselves. We’re always responsible fo our decisions and our behavior. You are, I am. 

There are factors that influence our decisions and behavior, and sometimes we’re not always making the most informed decisions— but we’re always responsible for the decisions we DO make, whether or not we had all the information or autonomy we “should” have had. 

That is to say: sometimes we’re actually NOT the “experts” on our experience that we think we are. 

We want to be, we try to be. We want to think that there’s something inside of us that will tell us if what we’re deciding and doing truly is “best” for us. 

But a lot of the time, that “something” inside of us is just…absent. 

Sometimes it’s there, but we’re not listening to it— and sometimes it’s just not there. 

I WISH I was the “expert” on what I needed all the time. But I’m not. 

My brain and personality have shortcomings. Left to my own devices, I will actively try to deceive myself into taking the less painful, less anxiety provoking path— and I will effortfully try to convince myself that that path is the “best” way for me, because “I know me.” 

There are absolutely things we know about ourselves. We know what we went through. We know what we were told. We know what we felt— and we often have to remind ourselves of that, because there are definitely people who will try to convince us we DIDN’T go through that, that we WEREN’T told that, that we DIDN’T feel that. 

At the same time, we need to be realistic about the fact that our brain WILL try to bullsh*t us at times. 

When there is something in our world that is just too sad or scary for us to consciously deal with at the moment, our brain WILL bend over backwards to make it seem like it’s not happening. 

It’s not that we’re intentionally avoiding it— it’s that our brain is pulling a fast one in order to avoid “seeing” and “knowing” something it thinks is catastrophic. 

When we’re trying to give up an addiction, but our brain truly thinks our substance or behavior of addiction is the ONLY thing keeping us alive and functional, our brain will lie to us about how bad our addiction is and how necessary it is to continue it. 

When we’re depressed, our brain will actively lie to us about our worth, about our competence, about the world, and about the future. 

One of the hardest lessons I have ever had to learn— and relearn, and relearn again— is that when my brain tries to tell me that it KNOWS something WITHOUT A DOUBT…that I need to look closer. 

When my brain tries to tell me that I need to NOT QUESTION an established habit of feeling or behaving…I need to look closer. 

It’s like the Wizard of Oz commanding Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion to PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

When the Wizard in your head snaps at you to PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN…something’s up behind that curtain. 

All of which is to say: we need to approach our own motivations and perceptions with curiosity as well as compassion. 

We need to be open to the idea that maybe we’re not seeing as straight as we think we’re seeing. 

We need to remember that depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, and a dozen other things seriously impact how we process information and experience the world. 

It’s not that we can’t trust ourselves— it’s that we need to be realistic about the factors that are influencing us. 

If you had a family member who you really, really trusted, but who got high sometimes, you’d take their habit into account. It doesn’t mean they can’t be trusted— it means that realistically there might be something else going on sometimes. 

Recovery brings us face to face with a lot of stuff that’s really hard to swallow. It brings me face to face every single day with how I deceive myself, because I want to keep believing what I already believe. 

We can question and challenge ourselves from a place of realism and compassion. We can push back on our preexisting beliefs and assumptions not because we don’t trust ourselves, but because we WANT to establish authentic self-trust. 

Yup. It can all be pretty complicated. 

But it’s worth the hassle. 

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Just get back on track.

Some of the roughest moments we will ever navigate in our healing or recovery journeys, are the moments after a relapse or set back. 

Talk about a time when it’s easy to feel as if we will never, ever make meaningful progress. 

Those are moments when we scrape bottom— when it’s easy to feel as if all of this effort is pointless. 

Our inner critic will be VICIOUS in the moments and hours and days after a relapse or setback. 

It’ll tell us that the roadblock we just ran into is our REAL self. 

It’ll tell us that we should’t even bother trying to get back on track, because we’re just going to screw up again. 

If we try to be compassionate toward ourselves after a setback, our inner critic will tell us we’re making excuses. 

If we’ve experienced a setback, we will often feel the urge to go even deeper down the rabbit hole, because we’ve screwed up already, why not go all in on our defeat? 

It’s a painful, discouraging time. 

There are a few things we need to remember after a relapse or a setback. 

We need to remember that literally everyone who succeeds in recovery has setbacks. 

Sometimes those setbacks are emotional, sometimes they’re relational, sometimes they’re behavioral— but EVERYBODY has them. 

You are not going to be first exception in the history of recovery to the rule that everybody has a setback. Neither am I. 

Setbacks are a normal part of the process. 

Yes, they’re a painful part of the process and we try to do everything we can to avoid them and make them less debilitating, but they’re GOING to happen. 

We can’t avoid setbacks in recovery— but how we handle them makes a big difference to what happens next. 

How we talk to ourselves after a setback or relapse is key. 

We are going to have the inner critic screaming in our face that this is evidence we are worthless and we should just give up. 

It’s really important we not jump on his side and scream in our own face that we’re worthless and we should just give up…not least because, it just isn’t true. 

You don’t have to like the fact that you relapsed. You don’t have to like the fact that setbacks are a normal part of recovery. I don’t. 

When relapses or other recovery setbacks happen, the name of the game is pushing reset and getting back on track. 

Not self-punishment, not cosmic justice, not existential certainty. Getting yourself out of danger and back on track is the ONLY thing that matters for a minute. 

We can have feelings about why and how we relapsed— and we can process them later. For now, just get back on track. 

We can have feelings about how hard it is to start over, and yup, that part can be super discouraging— but we can be discouraged and mad about it later. For now, just get back on track. 

If this is where you are, this is where you are. I’ve been there, everybody who has successfully recovered has been there. The smartest, strongest person you know has been there. 

Just get back on track. Press reset. Each and every time your inner critic tries to get you to look backward at what a mess you’ve made, calmly turn back around and look forward to what you have to do here, now, in this minute, to get back on track. 

Between those who plunge into self-punishment after a relapse, and those who focus on getting back on track, I will bet on the latter recoverers every time. 

Self-punishment doesn’t motivate. It stalls us out more. It robs us of the energy and focus that we need to get ourselves back on track after a setback. 

I know. This isn’t fun. It’s not fun for me, either. 

Just keep taking baby steps. Step, by step, by teeny tiny step. 

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Control? Nah. Influence? You bet.

When we’re recovering from depression, anxiety, addiction, or trauma, there’s a LOT that is, or seems, out of our control. 

It always annoys me when I see people assert that people who are struggling should simply “take control” of their mental lives. It’s just not that easy. 

If we COULD simply “take control’ of what we’re thinking and feeling, I assure you, we would. 

If it was a straightforward matter of “taking control” of our behavior, I assure you, we would. 

But human thoughts, feelings, and behavior is NEVER quite that simple or straightforward.

We don’t have “control” over everything that goes on in our head and heart, and we don’t have “control” over everything that happens in our lives. 

We have INFLUENCE over some things that happen inside us and something that happen around us— but not complete influence. 

That’s not a reason to give up. 

That’s a reason to get realistic about how we can use the limited amount of influence we have, to our advantage. 

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to do what we can to create a life consistent with what we want more of. 

For example, I want a life that includes a lot of love. 

I want a life that includes a lot of laughter and non-toxic humor. 

I want a life that includes a lot of affectionate, consensual physical touch. 

If those are the things I want, I need to do what I can to create a life that is consistent with those things. 

If I want a life that is full of love, I need to do what I can to limit the aggression and hostility in my world— primarily the aggression and hostility that I direct toward myself. 

If I want a life that includes a lot of laughter and non-toxic humor, I need to do what I can to limit the sarcasm and mockery I direct at myself. 

If I want a life that includes a lot of affectionate, consensual physical touch, I need to do what I can to limit the self-hating thoughts I have and statements I make about my body. 

I cannot control everything that goes on in my head and heart…but what I do influence, I want to influence in such a way that maximizes the chances that I’ll create the life I want. 

To the extent that we influence what we think, feel, and do, we want to think, feel, and do things that are consistent with what we want— and we want to intentionally limit those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are inconsistent with what we want. 

What I’m talking about isn’t easy. 

For many of us, the default setting is self-aggression. For many of us it feels “natural’ or “normal” to viciously make fun of ourselves, hate our body, obsess over our flaws and faults and imperfections. 

Many of us have even been taught that the only way to avoid being “narcissistic” is to viciously attack and deprecate ourselves at every turn. 

But we’re simply not going to create the positive, comfortable life experience we really crave if we’re cutting into ourselves all day, every day. 

I know, it may not feel “natural” to be kind to yourself. 

I know, part of you may be worried that to extend yourself kindness or compassion may be opening the door to “narcissism.” 

Being kind to yourself won’t make you a narcissist. Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt won’t make you into a narcissist. Having your own back won’t make you a narcissist. 

What being on your own side WILL do is giving you a fighting chance to create the life you actually deserve. 

Don’t get all up in your head about “controlling” your life. 

Reel it in, and get curious about what you can influence— inside your head and heart, and out there in the world. 

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