Trauma recovery means living in multiple worlds at once.

If you, like me, are a survivor of abuse, you probably very much want to be seen and heard…except when you don’t. 

That is, except when the very IDEA of being seen and heard doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you. 

You may want to be touched, held, physically soothed…except when you don’t. 

That is, except when touching, holding, and physical soothing or stimulation doesn’t trigger the bejeezus out of you. 

That’s what being an abuse survivor often is: living in two worlds. 

In one “mode,” we very much want to draw people close. 

We very much want to have connections. To listen and share. To give and receive. To be a meaningful part of someone else’s experience— maybe a lot of peoples’ experiences. 

In the other “mode,” though, we very much want to be left the hell alone. 

Physical or emotional intimacy actually scares us. We want to prove to ourselves that we don’t need anybody. To get as far away from the hurt we’ve experienced in past relationships as we can. 

Both “modes” are real. 

Both represent something we need from our recovery. Something we need in order to heal. 

Trauma does a lot of things to our habits of mind, but one of the most frustrating is its tendency to cram us into modes of black and white thinking. 

Many people reading this know what I’m talking about. We think in all or nothing terms. 

It very often goes back to a safety thing: to stay safe, we think we need to avoid ambiguity or nuance. We need to be crystal clear about what a situation is, how we feel about it, what to do about it. 

The problem with black and white thinking being, of course, that existing in the world frequently requires nuance. 

Certain things ARE black and white— but a lot of things aren’t. Especially things about ourselves, what we want, and what we need. 

In order to come to a realistic sense of who we are and what we need, we’re going to have to risk thinking in shades of grey sometimes— and that includes thinking in nuanced terms about whether or how visible we want to be, or whether or how connected to anyone we want to be. 

If we try to reduce it all to a black and white “I want to be seen and heard” or “I want to be invisible;” or “I want to be touched and held” or “I want everyone to stay a minimum of five miles away at all times,” we’re going to have problems navigating the real world and real relationships. 

The reality is, both can be true. 

The reality is, every situation and every relationship kind of has to be navigated on its own terms. 

We can’t lay down black and white rules for whether we’re going to let ourselves be seen and heard, or whether we’re going to let ourselves get close to anyone, physically or otherwise— because different relationships are, well, different. 

If we try to cram our needs into black and white, all or nothing “rules” as a response to our post traumatic anxiety, we’re going to necessarily be denying and disowning huge aspects of who we are and what we require to create a life worth living. 

Not to mention: black and white thinking actually doesn’t work so well, if the goal is reeling in our anxiety. 

(Black and white thinking actually tends to exacerbate our anxiety, in that it reinforces avoidance of the thing we’ve rejected, and often results in us getting preoccupied with the unrealistic all or nothing rules” we’ve tried to lay down.) 

That’s trauma recovery: learning to live in multiple worlds, learning to operate in multiple modes, learning to navigate the layers of who we are, what we need, and what is safe. 

Yeah. It can be intimidating. 

Our best shot at realistically figuring it out is to stay grounded, to be as clear as we can be about what we want out of situations and relationships, what’s appropriate and acceptable vs. inappropriate and unacceptable in situations or relationships, and frequently reminding ourselves what the life we’re trying to create looks like. 

Easy does it. We manage this recovery task just like every recovery task: one day at a time. 

You didn’t “fail” to “earn” their love.

You didn’t “fail” to “earn” the love or attention you needed when you were younger. 

You didn’t “fail,” because love and attention from our caregivers isn’t something we should have to “earn” in the first place. 

One of the most exhausting things about childhood abuse and neglect is that it leaves us with this utterly transactional model of how relationships work. 

We grow up believing that the only reason we didn’t get what we needed or wanted from our caregivers was that we didn’t “earn” it. 

We weren’t entertaining enough. 

We weren’t attractive enough. 

We weren’t smart enough. 

We just weren’t…enough. 

The thing is, love and attention shouldn’t be dependent upon how entertaining, attractive, or smart a kid is. 

We should’t have to “perform” to get our basic needs met— especially in childhood. 

When that’s our experience growing up, we carry those ideas over into our adult relationships. 

Sometimes we come out of experiences of childhood abuse or neglect determined to “earn” the approval and affection of everyone around us— no matter what it costs us. 

Other times we come out of experiences of childhood abuse or neglect convinced that we CAN’T “earn” the approval or affection of anyone— no matter what we do. 

Many survivors of childhood abuse and neglect vacillate between these extremes— feeling that they HAVE to “earn” love on the one hand…but feeling that nothing they ever do, or can do, could POSSIBLY be good enough to “earn” anybody’s love. 

It’s not our fault when this is our working model of the world and relationships. 

You didn’t choose your childhood experiences. You didn’t choose your caretakers. 

Our conditioning is our conditioning. Even the choices we DO make now, as adults, are filtered through the beliefs and attitudes that were programmed into us way back when. 

Of all the BS— Belief Systems— we tend to carry out of childhood experiences of abuse and neglect, one of the hardest to shake is “I need to earn love.” 

The belief that we have to “perform” to get our basic needs met— to even DESERVE to get our basic needs met— can poison everything from relationships to our job performance. 

While many practical things in life may be tied to our ability to placate or entertain other people,  our basic worth as human beings is NOT. 

We DESERVE compassion and respect, whether or not we happen to be entertaining, attractive, or otherwise valuable to somebody else in any given moment. 

We DESERVE to take up space, to breathe oxygen, to be seen and heard, whether or not we happen to fulfill somebody’s needs or expectations at a particular moment. 

A big part of recovery is teaching ourselves that our worth is not tied to anyone else’s approval. 

I say we have to “teach ourselves” this, because if we grew up abused or neglected, we damn sure weren’t taught that by our caretakers. 

It’s not the case that anybody reading this will EVER have all of their needs instantaneously or perfectly met— and, in my experience, that is virtually no trauma survivor’s expectation or even their desire. 

But it IS the case that we DON’T have to “earn” the right to take up space. 

We DON’T have to “earn” the right to consume resources necessary for our survival. 

And we DON’T have to live our lives apologizing for not being what the world— including our caregivers growing up— wants, needs, or finds interesting or attractive all the time. 

You have worth even on days when you can’t do anything for anybody. 

You have value even on days when you’re nobody’s idea of sexy. 

You have the right to be treated with compassion and respect even if the people who SHOULD have treated you with compassion and respect once upon a time, didn’t. 

You need to know that wasn’t about you. That was about them. 

You are every bit deserving of recovery— every bit deserving of living a life you like and choose- as anyone who has ever existed on the planet. 

Yeah, you. 

Maybe there’s nothing to forgive yourself for.

You don’t need “forgiveness” for having experienced or survived trauma. 

But— sometimes it’s helpful to use that language with ourselves, because we FEEL like we need forgiveness. 

We might “know” that we weren’t fundamentally “bad” when we were growing up— but we might FEEL like we were bad because we failed to “earn” the love and protection we very much needed. 

When kids don’t get what we need growing up, we tend to blame ourselves. 

When we’re kids, we kind of assume everything’s about us. 

The very process of growing up itself is kind of about learning, often the hard way, that the world DOESN’T revolve around us— that NOT everything is either our fault or our responsibility- and, in the best of all possible worlds, we get the emotional support and attention we need to deal with that fact. 

But what happens when we don’t get that emotional support or attention? 

What happens if, instead of emotional support and attention, we’re ignored or neglected— or physically, verbally,  or otherwise abused? 

Not only do we then have the aftereffects of trauma to deal with— but we never quite learn that lesson that not everything is about us. 

We continue thinking that everything IS about us— including the pain we’ve experienced. 

Unless something big changes, we can often carry that believe into adult life. 

Many survivors reading this know what it’s like to feel that EVERYTHING is our fault— and EVERYTHING is our responsibility. 

Letting ourselves off the hook not only feels wrong— it feels dangerous. 

Being kind and fair to ourselves feels like a trap. 

It’s not that we truly think we’re the center of the universe— most often, in fact, trauma survivors struggle to believe we even exist outside of the perceptions and expectations of other people. 

It’s that we’ve been programmed to believe that if we— or even someone around us (or sometimes even someone we don’t know!) is experiencing pain or inconvenience, it’s probably our fault. 

We’ve also been programmed to believe that, even if we can’t quite identify how or why it’s our fault that something bad is happening or being felt, it’s our responsibility to do something about it…which then runs headlong into our difficulty believing that we truly CAN do ANYTHING about ANYTHING. 

The belief system that trauma stamps on our nervous system is such a scam. 

It can be hard to, in recovery, wrap our mind around the idea that we’re not at fault for or responsible for everything bad that has ever happened in our lives (or in the universe throughout time). 

We can take realistic responsibility for situations to which we contributed. 

We can take action to change our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. This isn’t about denying and disowning responsibility that IS ours. 

This is about getting real about the fact that we are not fundamentally “bad” because we failed to make everything okay growing up. 

You don’t need forgiveness for that because there’s nothing to forgive. Really. 

But— if the kid inside your head and heart needs to hear it— tell them you forgive them. 

You forgive them for not living up to standards no kid, anywhere, at any time, should have been asked to live up to. 

You forgive them for not being an adult, with an adult’s intellect, perspective, and behavioral options, when you were a kid. 

You can forgive the kid you once were for being the kid you once were. 

All they ever needed to be WAS that kid. 

All you ever needed to be was you. Not the savior or scapegoat of your family.

You weren’t the reason the abuse happened. Not the way you looked; not anything you did. 

If you choose to use the language of self-forgiveness in your recovery, be sure to add to caveat that such forgiveness is your birthright— because there is truly nothing to forgive. 

“Acceptance” is such a lonely word.

Accepting we are where we are right now is hard. 

We don’t want to accept it. 

The word “acceptance” it feels like we’re saying something is okay, that it “should” exist, that it’s “right.” 

That’s not how I think of “acceptance.” 

If we’re going to do anything about a situation we hate, a situation that causes us pain, we first need to accept that the situation is as it is. 

That it is as painful as it is. 

That it is exactly as bad, exactly as f*cked up, as it is. 

There’s a reason why Step One in the Twelve Step model of addiction recovery is all about acceptance— because without accepting a situation is as bad as it is, we are powerless to meaningfully do anything about it. 

You can’t actually change something if you deny it’s even real. 

Meaningful trauma recovery begins with accepting that we have been traumatized. 

Sometimes it means accepting we were abused— sometimes by someone who should have taken care of us, kept us safe, done the OPPOSITE of abuse us. 

Sometimes it means accepting we were neglected— sometimes by the very people who SHOULD have paid attention to our needs, reinforced our personhood, helped us develop into people who could handle life. 

Sometimes it means accepting we were abused in a way OTHER than physically— which, believe it or not, can be a much tougher task than it sounds like. 

After all, many of us can wrap our heads around physical abuse as “abuse.” Physical abuse often leaves marks or scars. Physical abuse can be qualified by how often and how hard we were hit or otherwise physically attacked. 

Non-physical abuse, such as emotional or verbal abuse, can be much harder to accept. 

We often don’t want to call it abuse. 

We often don’t want to concede that it hurt us at all— because, after all, we weren’t hit, right? 

The truth is that emotional or verbal abuse can f*ck us up in even more complex ways than physical abuse— and if we’re going to meaningfully recover from years of such abuse, we have to first accept that it happened, and it exacted the toll that it did. 

Part of us might think that if we refuse to accept our pain is what it is, that it resulted from what it resulted from, then we might not have to deal with its reality now. 

We might be able to just keep brushing it off. 

We might be able to get away with pretending it didn’t hurt as much as it did, and it didn’t wound us like it did. 

The thing is: non-acceptance of something’s impact doesn’t negate that impact. 

It just hamstrings our ability to do anything about it. 

Non-acceptance— that is, denial— that a situation is EXACTLY as bad as it is, in EXACTLY the ways it is, doesn’t make the situation NOT bad. 

It just means we can’t take action to make it better. 

Nobody LIKES embracing the “powerlessness” that is encapsulated by Step One of the Twelve Steps. 

In fact, there are PLENTY of people who walk out of Twelve Step meetings when they hear Step one recited. We HATE thinking of ourselves as powerless. 

But we are. Powerless, that is. In a way, anyway. 

We are powerless to change the fact that the past has led us here. 

We are powerless to deny or disown the exact impact everything in our life has had on us, up to this point. 

We are powerless to ever have a better past. 

We never WILL have a better past. 

But in accepting our powerlessness to change reality in this moment, we paradoxically gain the power to change reality from this point forward. 

If we’re going to proactively write the rest of our story, we need to accept that the story has been EXACTLY what it’s been so far. 

We’re not starting from scratch— even if, in a way, we are. 

Change starts with acceptance. 

Not liking. Not approving of. Not giving up on changing. 

Accepting what is— right now. 

Trauma, “victim mindset,” and “personal responsibility.”

Let’s talk a little about trauma and “personal responsibility.” 

Sometimes I’ll see someone on social media post a hot take about how trauma survivors— or anyone who suffers, really— needs to “take responsibility” for their lives. 

I very often see a specific, moderately well-known therapist post about how indulging trauma survivors’ narratives can be problematic, in that it reinforces the idea that others are responsible for our suffering. 

Another moderately well-known therapist is pretty famous on social media for her posts about how “coddling” is destructive to adults, and more often than not peoples’ REAL problem is they need to take “responsibility” for their lives. 

(If anybody reading recognizes the social media therapists I’m referring to and feels I’m oversimplifying or mischaracterizing their respective worldviews, please let me know— I’m presenting the most straightforward recap of their pet themes as I can.)

It’s a well-worn cultural trope, “personal responsibility.” 

We’re strongly encouraged not to have a “victim mindset.” 

We’re encouraged to “take responsibility” for our happiness and stability— and this often seems to include denying and ignoring ways we were hurt or victimized. 

I’m always struck by how many vocal advocates of “personal responsibility,” in their enthusiasm to reject the “victim mindset,” seem to view all of this as a black and white choice. 

They seem to think that you can acknowledge your trauma— the ways you were, by definition, a victim— OR you can “take responsibility” for how you fee and function…but you can’t do both. 

In my experience as a trauma therapist, that’s just now how trauma recovery unfolds in the real world. 

In the real world, we ONLY recover WHEN we take responsibility for our happiness and stability— and part of taking REALISTIC responsibility means acknowledging our pain. 

It is not reality to pretend we are responsible for our post traumatic pain. 

It is not reality to “accept responsibility” for injuries that resulted from other peoples’ decisions and behavior. 

It is not reality to deny the fact that we are in pain, and there are layers to our pain that we do not control and can not reliably affect. 

It IS reality to see what we see and know what we know about our past and our present functioning— that there were aspects of our past that were painful and terrifying, and there are aspects of our current functioning that aren’t great as a result. 

None of that is “victim mindset.” It is reality mindset. 

When we acknowledge how hurt we are, and we get clear about what caused that hurt— including the truth that we didn’t and don’t control every aspect of every situation that resulted in pain or injury to us— that’s us taking REAL “personal responsibility.” 

Nobody gets into trauma recovery to blame someone else for their pain. 

Very often, the reason we find ourselves NEEDING to be in recovery is because we’ve blamed ourselves for so much for so long…and that strategy hasn’t worked out for us. 

It doesn’t work because it’s not reality. 

Many addicts struggle with Step One of the Twelve Steps because it is the step that speaks to the powerlessness of addiction— it asks us to get real about the fact that addiction is kicking our ass, and we can’t conquer it on our own. 

Trauma survivors experience that same struggle as we try to come to terms with the fact that our conditioning has lied to us— we are NOT responsible for everything that happened to us or every aspect of how we feel and function. 

It’s hard. Nobody reading this loves powerlessness. 

Nobody reading this loves denial, either— but we can get kind of “addicted” to it in that the alternative seems so overwhelming we don’t want to consider it. 

Survivors in trauma recovery know more about real world “personal responsibility” than anyone throwing that word around in a black and white way to score social media points. 

We know the REAL cost of TRUE “personal responsibility.” 

We know that if we’re GOING to take true responsibility for how we feel and function, sometimes we have to admit how powerless we were— or are.

It’s not easy. It very often sucks. 

But don’t let anyone get in your head about “taking responsibility” when their only conception of that is “taking unrealistic responsibility for things you didn’t control and could’t have changed.” 

Recovering who we really are.

When we’re busy living life in survival mode, we don’t have the time or the bandwidth to discover or create who we really are. 

This is one of the reasons why, when we commit to recovery from trauma, addiction, or depression, we often have no idea what the hell to do next. 

We don’t know who WE are. 

Ideally, growing up should be a time of experimenting and exploring. 

We figure out who we really are. 

What we like. What we need. Who we want in our lives. 

But a lot of us didn’t have the luxury of exploring and experimenting, did we? 

A lot of us had to throw a LOT of energy toward just surviving growing up. 

Either surviving dangerous physical environment, such as an abusive or neglectful one, or a psychologically dangerous environment, such as one shot through which verbal or emotional abuse. 

How on earth are we supposed to figure out who the hell WE are, when we’re just trying to keep our head above water? 

Fast forward to now— you’ve decided that you no longer want trauma, addiction, or depressions to define your moods or your choices. 

That’s an extraordinary step and decision to make— but it begs the question of what do we do instead? 

If our entire lives have been more or less a battle to just breathe and exist, either physically or psychologically, what on earth do we even do with our time, focus, and energy when we’ve definitively decided that our lives AREN’T going to be defined by those battles? 

Weirdly, when we get into recovery from trauma, addiction, or depression, we often feel…young. 

Lost. Inexperienced. 

It might be that this moment— the moment we committed to recovery, to continuing to live and living in a different way— is the first moment we’ve ever really had to ask ourselves what we really want. 

Who we really are. 

What really DOES deserve our attention, if NOT the battle against our emotional and behavioral struggles. 

It can be overwhelming. 

indeed, the fact that the the “brand newness” of recovery IS kind of overwhelming is why many people go back to old patterns. 

At least we knew where we stood with those old patterns. 

At least we didn’t have to make so many decisions about what to do with our day and our focus— those decisions were made for us by the fact that trauma, addiction, and depression were so often trying to make us miserable or kill us. 

To really succeed at recovery, we need to be prepared for it to feel unfamiliar. Awkward. Intimidating. 

We need to be prepared to look at the world with fresh eyes. 

We need to forgive ourselves for NOT having explored and experimented when we didn’t have the emotional bandwidth or oxygen to do so growing up. 

And we need to embrace the opportunity to discover, rediscover, or maybe even create for the first time our true selves. 

Our authentic self. 

The “you” you were always meant to be. 

I’ve said it before: part of what we “recover” in recovery is our authentic selves. 

Your authentic self has been waiting for you to remember them.  

No day but today.

Recovery means focusing on today. 

Yeah, yeah— that sounds obvious. But the truth is, it can be REALLY hard. 

Personally, one of my biggest struggles is trying to NOT relive the past. 

It’s tempting to pore over old messages and mementos, trying to figure out what went wrong with certain situations and relationships. 

We WANT to undestand. 

Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we NEED to understand, in order to not repeat the same mistakes or to avoid certain people and situations in the future. I tell myself that a lot. 

But the truth is, we will never, ever have a better or different past. 

It’s done. Twenty years ago, ten years ago, earlier today…it’s all done. Gone. Set in stone. 

That’s so hard to believe when the past feel so alive in our heads. 

It’s hard to believe when body memories are crowding in on us, seeming to squeeze the very cells of our body. 

But it’s true. We can’t go back and un-make decisions. We can’t go back and change what we did and didn’t see, what we did and didn’t have. 

I have a terrible time leaving the past alone. 

I also have a terrible time leaving the future alone. 

The future is tricky. Supposedly, we CAN impact the future, by what we do today. 

It’s true we can influence the future— make certain events more or less likely with the decisions we make and the actions we take today. 

But it’s also true that the future isn’t going to look like we think it will. 

Whether it’s a little or a lot, the future will look different from what we’re imagining. 

Most of us have no idea how long the future is even going to last. 

This minute might be my last minute alive. I might not survive to the end of this sentence. I don’t THINK my life is going to end here and now, it would kind of SURPRISE me if it did…but I don’t know. 

The future will have surprises, good and bad, for all of us. 

We just don’t know. 

We cannot directly affect what future-us will think, feel, and do. And we can’t affect, at all, what past-us thought, felt, and did. 

All we have is right-now us. 

Minute-by-minute us. 

I can’t change the past, I can’t shape the future with 100% predictability— what can I do? 

I can do what I can do right here. Right now. 

I can choose to keep typing— or not. 

I can choose to post this blog— or not. 

I can choose to wear my glasses as I watch the words on this screen— or not. 

I can choose to fantasize about relapsing— or to turn my attention elsewhere. 

I can choose to keep writing this blog, or to dive back into old messages. 

But THIS is where my power to decide REALLY is. 

And THIS is where our power EVER is. Our focus, our behavior, right here, right now. 

No matter how real and in our face the past feels, no matter how anxiety or despair-provoking the future seems, we don’t hold either in the palm of our hand. 

Not like we hold this minute. 

All we can do is what we can do: manage our behavior, today. Right here. Right now. 

So let’s do that. 

Let’s not let what we can’t control or change, keep us from managing what we can. 

Reel it in. 

Always bring it back to this moment. 

This is the way. 

ARE your feelings valid? Well…

We gotta resist the urge to judge our feelings. 

I know, I know. The world teaches us to do a LOT of judging, about EVERYTHING— especially everything about ourselves. 

The world teaches us to judge our, and others’, appearance. 

The world teaches us to judge our, and others’, motivations and values. 

The world teaches us to judge our, and others’, financial and career success— or lack thereof. 

Turns out, we don’t live in a world that particularly values good faith or extending the benefit of the doubt. The world loves to judge, even in entertainment contexts. 

I guess it shouldn’t be any real surprise that the world teaches us to judge our feelings. 

We get into the habit of judging the “rightness” of our feelings— “am I having the ‘correct’ emotion in response to this thing?’” 

We get into the habit of judging the proportionality of our feelings— “am I feeling too much? Am I not feeling enough?” 

And we very much get into the habit of judging ourselves as people, based on how appropriate our feelings supposedly are. 

The whole conversation that sometimes erupts over the “validity” of certain feelings and reactions stems from his impulse to judge our feelings. 

The truth of the matter is, feelings aren’t “right” or “wrong.” They arise spontaneously. We don’t ask for them, and the don’t need our consent or approval. 

They just show up. 

It can be awkward when our feelings don’t seem to represent our values or the values of the culture or subculture around us— but that doesn’t mean our feelings are “wrong.” 

Sometimes our feelings arise in response to a misunderstanding or a distorted thought or believe— but THAT doesn’t make our feelings “wrong” or “invalid.” 

The reason why it’s important to validate our feelings is because if we accept the premise that certain feelings are “invalid,” we are inviting a conflict with ourselves that isn’t necessary or productive. 

Even if we’re having a feeling that we don’t like, that doesn’t serve us, or that seems disproportionate to what’s going on right now, we’re not going to banish that feeling by labeling it “invalid.” 

Dismissing something we’re feeling as “invalid” will only handicap our ability to get curious about it, examine it, listen to it, deal with it. 

Many of us know what it’s like to grow up being CONSTANTLY told our feelings are “wrong.” 

Many of us have had people try to control and shame us by telling us our emotional reactions were “wrong.” 

That we were “overreacting.” 

That we’re being “dramatic.” 

If we don’t like something we’re feeling, the solution is not to deny and disown that we’re feeling it. 

If we deny and disown an emotional reaction, it’s not like that emotional reaction goes away. 

Sometimes we “stuff” it or even dissociate it— but it’s still there. And it WILL come back. 

In recovery, we learn to accept our feelings as they come. 

Even if they confuse us, even if they’re painful— we have to accept the fact that our feelings exist. 

They are what they are, and we have to deal with them on their terms. 

The good news is, when we accept and listen to our feelings, rather than denying and disowning them— WHATEVER they happen to be— we open ourselves up to actually being able to regulate and process them. 

We can’t manage something we deny. We can’t regulate something we disown. 

Our feelings don’t need to be wholly based in reality to be “valid” and worth exploring and examining. 

Resist getting into the debate about whether certain feelings are valid or proportional. 

Our feelings are what they are. We need to meet them where they are. 

We’re interested in real world emotional regulation so we can get on with our lives— not some hypothetical conversation about which feelings are or aren’t okay to feel. 

Starting over– with ourselves.

We get to start over— as many times as we need to. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have to clean up our messes. 

That doesn’t mean we abandon our responsibilities. 

That doesn’t mean we’re not still carrying much of what we’ve been carrying. 

It means that we get to reinvent ourselves. Redefine who we are. 

We don’t have to stick with an identity, goals, or habits that no longer work for us. 

One of the things that held me back for YEARS was believing that I had to keep being who I was. 

Who I was, in this case, was defined by other people— and my past mistakes. 

I thought I had to keep seeing myself through my parents’ eyes. 

I thought I had to see myself through the eyes of the people who I’d disappointed— people who liked me once upon a time, but who had soured on me. 

Every time I thought of myself through those peoples’ eyes, I got sad. My level of motivation plunged. 

Why bother continuing with this “recovery” thing, which is complex and difficult, if I’m only ever going to be “that” guy?

(There’s that “why bother” question we were talking about the other day once again.) 

I thought I had to keep being that scared little boy who I was for much of my life. 

I thought I had to keep being that kid who, often, purposefully said and did weird things in order to create distance from himself and anybody who dared to get close. 

I thought I had to keep being that guy who would make up any and every excuse to slip away and indulge in a substance or behavior that felt good— no matter what it did to his relationships or projects. 

I’ll be the first to tell you: recovery ISN’T worth it if we are condemned to being who we used to be, indefinitely. 

But we’re not. 

We get to change. 

We get to choose who we are now, and who we’re going to be in the future. 

We do not have to keep being who “they” remember us as or who “they” expect us to be. 

For a long time I was skeptical about the idea of “reinventing” myself. What would that even mean, to have a blank slate? To start over? 

Surely there’s no such thing as starting COMPLETELY over, is there? 

Well— yes and no. 

We can’t “reinvent ourselves” out of our responsibilities. 

Our “blank slate” will still have to acknowledge our debts and our commitments, especially to certain other people. 

But we can meaningfully start over in our own head and heart. 

We can forgive ourselves for what came before. 

We can commit or recommit to treating ourselves with respect and fairness. 

We can decide that, from now on, we are going to make ourselves a priority in a realistic, sustainable way. 

We can decide that, from here on out, we have our own back. 

From here on out, we are on our own side. 

From here on out, making the inside of our own head and heart is going to be job one. 

Don’t get me wrong: starting over like this WILL have its false starts. 

Let it. 

There is no limit to how many times we get to push the “reset” button in our relationship with ourselves. 

Push it as many times as you need to. 

“Why bother?”

One of the hardest thoughts to deal with in recovery is “why bother.” 

Of all the distorted thoughts that kick our ass in recovery, “why bother” is one of the toughest ones for me to shake. 

It seems such a simple thought. Surely a smart, committed person “should” be able to put it in its place pretty easily, no? 

Not so much, as it turns out. 

“Why bother” particularly decimates me when I’ve been struggling to follow through on my recovery commitments. 

This will sound familiar to many people also in recovery: I will come through a bad patch, having made series of decisions or commitments about what I will or won’t do going forward. 

Then— life will happen. Stress will happen. Bad days will happen. Interpersonal difficulties will happen. 

Triggers will happen. 

Consequently my resolve to follow through on those decisions and commitments will weaken or dissipate— and I’ll cave. 

It won’t be a relapse, exactly— but I’ll find my streak of bad days extended, when I thought I was at a turning point. 

It’s an enormously discouraging experience. 

That’s when the “why bother” monster shows up and does the most damage. 

When I’m picking myself up and trying to dust myself off, having NOT bounced back from a streak of bad days…that deceptively simple thought will occur to me. 

“Why bother?” 

It’ll invariably be followed by other thoughts that make me progressively more discouraged. 

Why bother? You’re already on a bad streak, what’s another day? 

Why bother? You know you’re going to hit another bad streak eventually. 

Why bother? The day is almost over anyway, doesn’t it make more sense to start fresh tomorrow? 

My depression, addiction, or trauma will USE that simple, intrusive “why bother” question to insert more of their BS (Belief Systems) into my head. 

And the worst part is, when the conversation in my head had led off with “why bother,” my ability to argue back is ENORMOUSLY weakened. 

The only way I’ve found to effectively push back against why bother is the single word: “because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

Yes. I know the word “because” doesn’t ACTUALLY answer the question “why bother?” 

But here’s the thing: “why bother” doesn’t actually HAVE a great answer. 

It’s not an honest, good faith question. 

“Why bother” is never anything more than your— my— depression, anxiety, or trauma trying to get its foot in the door. 

Consequently, engaging the “why bother” monster with good faith dialogue is pointless. 

It’s not asking in good faith. It will not argue in good faith. 

“Because” is absolutely a dismissive answer— and “why bother” DESERVES a dismissive answer. 

It may not be a particularly motivating answer— but in recovery, we cannot let our decisions be made solely by how motivated we do or don’t feel in any given moment. 

We all have our individual reasons for even making the effort to be in recovery— but the “why bother” monster doesn’t care. ANY substantive answer we give to “why bother” will be met with a shrug and yet another disingenuous question. 

Do not engage the “why bother” monster.

Just get in the habit of responding with, “because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

“Why bother?” “You know why. Because.” 

“Why bother” will derail our recovery if we seriously engage it. “Because” isn’t supposed to answer its question— it’s supposed to set aside the entire conversation while you take the teeny, tiny, realistic baby step you need to take RIGHT NOW to get back on track.