We can’t people-please our way to safety.

Sometimes we’re going to have to do things to protect and care for ourselves that inconvenience others. 

And that’s okay. 

Just reading that probably made some people uncomfortable. 

Many of us HATE the very IDEA of inconveniencing others. 

For some of us, it goes even deeper: we’ve come to associate the idea of inconveniencing others as inviting pain.

That is to say: some of us have concluded, either consciously or not, that it’s not SAFE to inconvenience others. 

This idea is related to other ideas we get in our head about what reactions it may not be safe to elicit from other people— for example, MANY people truly believe that it isn’t safe to “make” other people angry. 

Their only experiences with people being angry with them are frightening and painful, so they develop the belief that “safety” involves NEVER “making” anyone angry. 

All of this gets wrapped up in a larger idea that “safety” can be created by accommodating other people at all times— and to NOT accommodate someone is to make yourself vulnerable to attack (either physically, or verbally, or emotionally). 

It’s a type of trauma response called “fawning.” 

People-pleasing is a form of fawning. Being reluctant to set boundaries because we don’t want others to be mad at us is another form of fawning. 

The common denominator of these fawning behaviors is that we have decided that our best chance at safety is in scrambling to never displease, inconvenience, or otherwise elicit a negative feeling or impression from somebody else. 

The thing is, we’re human beings and this is real life. 

We’re GOING to displease someone, sometime. 

There WILL be times when our needs— not just our wants, but our needs— WILL be incompatible with what someone else wants or needs just then. 

In those moments, when we have to choose between meeting our needs and caring for ourselves, OR minimizing our anxiety by putting our needs and self-care on the back burner so we don’t “make” somebody mad or inconvenience them…anxiety management frequently wins out. 

When we do this over and over again, over the course of years…our self-esteem takes a nasty hit. 

After all, it’s really hard to esteem ourselves when we’re constantly putting the comfort and convenience of others above our actual needs. 

And it’s nearly impossible to establish a sense of REAL emotional or physical safety when we don’t think we have the right to set boundaries. 

Recovery from people-pleasing involves us giving up the fantasy that safety can be found in someone else’s positive response to us. 

When we pin our only hope for safety on someone else’s positive feelings toward us, we’re setting ourselves up for a permanent state of anxiety. 

We will be CONSTANTLY checking and re-checking others’ responses for evidence that we have, or are about to, displease them. 

Eventually it becomes more than a preoccupation. It can become an obsession. 

Not to mention: that sense of safety isn’t real. 

We can’t ensure that someone will NEVER think negatively about us. 

We can’t ensure that we will ALWAYS make a positive impression. 

And there will ABSOLUTELY be times when we have to say or do something that WILL displease someone else in order to get our needs met. 

There WILL come a time when you have to prioritize your needs over someone else’s comfort. 

That doesn’t make you mean. It doesn’t make you “high maintenance.” It doesn’t make you entitled. 

Your needs are as important as anyone else’s needs. 

And your needs are almost always MORE important than others’ convenience. 

The point of recovery is to move beyond recovery.

I reject the idea that having bad things happen TO us means that the rest of our life is just day after day of “just getting by.” 

When traumatic things happen to us, either in the distant or recent past, it means we face some specific struggles and challenges. 

We can’t ignore those struggles and challenges. We can’t pretend they don’t exist— they’ve very often in our face in the form of flashbacks and dissociation and depression and other symptoms. 

Living a life after painful things have happened to us means learning specific tools, skills, and strategies to mange our symptoms and integrate overwhelming memories. 

Recovery is an involved project. We can’t treat it like a side project. 

When we’re trying to build and life a life after bad things have happened to us, it means we have to look at ALL of our life projects— our relationships, our career, our hobbies— through the lens of recovery. 

Trauma— and recovery— will touch EVERY aspect of our lives going forward. We don’t get to opt out of that. (I wish we did.) 

All that said: I don’t believe our life THEN consists of ONLY recovery. 

I believe recovery is the paradigm, the framework, that allows us to do the things we REALLY want to do with our lives. 

Once we accept that we have to live our lives within the framework of recovery— that we will never NOT be trauma survivors— that allows us to ask questions about what we want to do WITHIN that framework. 

What kind of relationships we want to have. What kind of career we want to have. What kind of goals and dreams we want to create and pursue. 

Ironically, accepting that we will never NOT be in recovery is what allows us to focus on things OTHER than recovery without the risk of our symptoms overwhelming us and dominating our lives. 

I know it can be really difficult to imagine ever having anything that resembles a life outside of our pain. 

I know how frustrating it is when we’re told to not let our pain dominate our life, when we’re used to our symptoms being SO painful and SO pervasive that we can’t IMAGINE pain NOT dominating our life. 

But I also know how depressing it is to imagine our futures being nothing BUT pain and symptom management. 

Your mileage may vary, and you’re always the expert on your own experience— but I reject the idea that all we can ever hope for is misery management for the rest of our lives. 

I think we still have lives to live that go beyond “just getting by.” 

I think the entire POINT of developing coping skills and tools is to get back to what ACTUALLY matters in our lives. 

I think that developing skills and tools and strategies to mange our symptoms is about MORE than just managing our symptoms. 

I think that recovery isn’t a goal. It’s a lifestyle. 

Will we have days where all we can do is JUST manage our pain? Sure. 

Will we have days when we feel so overwhelmed that we can’t IMAGINE doing much else with our lives OTHER than just get by? Sure. 

But effective recovery opens up the door to more. 

It opens up the door to you being YOU again— and YOU are MORE than JUST someone to whom bad things happened. 

YOU have interests and hopes and dreams. 

YOU have goals and values. 

YOU have things that you like and love and want. 

I want you to create and experience a life that is as close as possible to the life you once imagined. 

That’s why I believe in recovery. 

I believe in recovery because of all the OTHER stuff it makes possible. 

Life’s NOT perfect…but don’t panic. (Really.)

I struggle when a situation isn’t perfect. You too? 

When a relationship isn’t perfect— isn’t exactly what I want, isn’t exactly what I fantasized about, isn’t exactly what I expected— my brain often tries to tell me that it’s NOTHING that I want. That I HAVE to get out of it, the sooner the better. 

When a business arrangement isn’t quite what I had in mind, my brain often tries to tell me that I’m in over my head, that business isn’t my thing, that I need to get out before I get taken advantage of. 

When a day doesn’t go as I would have preferred, my nervous system often tries to tell me that there is nothing salvageable, nothing good about this day…and the ONLY way I can handle this TERRIBLE day having occurred, is to dive into a behavior that might be soothing— but which I know is ultimately self-harmful. 

(More straightforwardly: my addiction uses the excuse of a bad day to see if it can get me to relapse.) 

I know life isn’t perfect. My “rational” brain doesn’t EXPECT life to be perfect. 

I know compromises have to be made in the course of real world living. 

It’s not that I have a child-like insistence that everything be perfect or else I’m going to melt down. 

But something unusual DOES happen when certain situations aren’t perfect that isn’t entirely about my “rational” mind. 

When we grew up with complicated, often painful relationships in our lives, things not being “perfect” is sometimes more than an inconvenience. Things not being perfect can sometimes hit a sort of panic button in us…because it means something Really Bad might be about to happen. 

There are people reading this who were punished when things weren’t perfect— even if it wasn’t their fault. 

There are people reading this who truly fear— not with their “rational” minds, but something deeper— that if things aren’t “perfect,” they are going to be rejected, abandoned, or shamed. 

All day long we are told not to be perfectionists. 

But some people don’t quite know what they’re asking when they ask us to give up perfectionism as a kind of hypothetical safety net. 

Perfectionism often isn’t about any kind of real world expectation or even a real world goal. It’s about anxiety. 

It’s often about anxiety that we’re going to be blamed. 

Sometimes it’s about anxiety that we’re going to be hurt. 

Sometimes it’s about anxiety that we’ve failed, and we’re gong to experience the consequences of that failure — even if we can’t quite put words to why or how we’ve failed to make things “perfect” that we didn’t actually have any control over. 

Almost nobody I know ACTUALLY expects themselves or the world to be perfect. 

We know that human reality just doesn’t work like that. 

But we also have this anxiety that rears its head when things AREN’T perfect. 

It’s as if certain things going wrong in certain ways makes us regress. It’s like we become anxious kids. 

Kids who feel like they’re in trouble…but can’t quite understand how, or what they’d need to do to be “good” kids. 

All of which is to say: handling the imperfections and complications of life ma not come naturally to you— and it has nothing to do with your ability to actually handle life. 

You may be getting triggered— and you need to know that being triggered by life’s imperfections is a more common occurrence then you may know. 

The anxiety that gives rise to perfectionism is VERY common among people with abuse, neglect, or other trauma in their history. 

As with any painful emotional experience, though, it’s up to us to meet it with compassion and patience. 

We won’t get anywhere shaming ourselves for panicking or melting down. 

We can only understand what’s actually going on if we’re willing to stay with ourselves when we’re anxious. 

It’s a big ask, I know. My first response is to DO something, ANYTHING, to take away that anxiety. 

Waiting that anxiety response out is both really hard— and really important. 

Yup. Others MIGHT be talking about you. And they MIGHT not like you. So?

Yup. Someone might be talking about you. In fact, someone almost surely is talking about you. 

They might be saying unkind things about you. They might think and feel negative things about you. And they might be sharing those unkind things with other people. 

I’d love to tell you none of that’s true. I’d love to tell you that people are only thinking, feeing, and saying nice things about you. But how the hell would I know? 

Realistically, we’re going to run into people who feel positively AND negatively about us. 

The thing is: a lot of that’s not going to actually be about us. 

Much of that stuff is going to be about them: their expectations, their preferences, people in their lives or pasts, their mood, their personalities. 

The truth is, we couldn’t leave everyone we meet with a positive impression if we tried. 

Think of the most likable person you know. I guarantee, that person has made a negative impression on SOMEBODY. 

When we’re depressed or anxious, we often get up in our head about what other people are thinking, feeling, and saying about us. 

Depression and anxiety REALLY love to speculate about ALL the negative things other people MIGHT be thinking, feeling, and saying about us— and depression and anxiety ESPECIALLY love to tell us that what other people think, feel, and say about us is REALLY important. 

Don’t get me wrong: I prefer when people think, feel, and say positive things about me. It’s a bummer when someone doesn’t like you. 

It’s also GOING To happen. 

And the fact that SOMEONE is going to think, feel, or speak negatively about us isn’t NEARLY as important as our depression and anxiety want us to believe. 

Let’s be clear: when people don’t like us, sometimes they can absolutely try to make life difficult for us. That’s real. 

My childhood has many LENGTHY periods where the bullying of other kids really ruined the experience of being alive for me. Our peers’ opinions of us and behavior toward us DO have realistic consequences. 

But our depression and anxiety often WANT us to leap to the conclusion that other people are thinking, feeling, and saying negative things about us without much evidence…and our depression and anxiety want us to take the further step of letting these possibly-imaginary thoughts, feelings, and words to largely define our self-image. 

We can’t let our depression and anxiety convince us that we are DEFINED by what others may or may not think. 

Unfortunately, when we were growing up, many of us are not taught how to cultivate self-esteem independently of the positive regard of others. 

We were often taught that we “should” feel good about ourselves when OTHERS felt good about our behavior or achievements. 

The truth is, it’s nice when others approve of our behavior or when we achieve goals. It’s certainly nicer than when others don’t like us or we fail to achieve our goals. 

But achievements or popularity aren’t sustainable foundations of self-esteem. 

They weren’t sustainable when we were kids, and they’re not sustainable now. 

We build self-esteem by deciding who we are, what’s important to us— and by living congruently with our values. 

We build self-esteem by living with self-awareness, self-compassion, and personal integrity. 

We can do those things whether or NOT we happen to be liked by our peers, or wherever we happen to be in the journey toward our goals. 

Depression and anxiety want to make our self-worth dependent upon what others may or may not be thinking, feeling, or saying about us. 

It’s up to us to appreciate the truth: our self-worth is created and nurtured by us. 

No one can give it to us, and no one can take it away. 

No matter what depression or anxiety whisper in our ear. 

About that “worthiness” thing.

Often we feel we need to cram who we are and what we experience into the mold of someone else’s expectations or needs in order to be worthy. 

I don’t mean ESPECIALLY worthy. I mean just worthy to exist. To breathe. To take up space. 

We don’t have to “earn” the air we breathe or the physical space we occupy. 

But we instinctively feel we do. 

We’ve don’t want to be a “waste of space” or a “waste of oxygen.” 

We’ve been told, all our lives, that some people just aren’t worthy. 

Often we’ve been told that people who don’t “contribute to the world” aren’t worthy. 

Sometimes we’ve been told that being alive is a “gift” we have to “earn” with our behavior or accomplishments. 

(Seems to me if something is truly a gift, we don’t have to “earn” it, but whatever.) 

We DON’T have to “earn” or “deserve” the privilege of our existence via our behavior or accomplishments. 

We are “worthy” of being alive by virtue of the fact that we are alive. 

So why do we get so obsessed with “earning” our very lives? 

Most of it is programming. 

Some of us truly feel that if we don’t have SOME sort of incentive to achieve things or behave well, we just…won’t achieve things or behave well. 

If we are worthy just because we exist, where is the incentive to be better? 

Every single time I write about the subject of self-worth, I get asked: if we don’t “earn” our worth though our behavior, then what is the basis of our worth? What gives human life value? 

I don’t know. 

Different people are going to have different ideas about what gives human life value. Your mileage may vary on whether your, or anyone’s, life has “value,” I suppose. 

But the real truth is, I don’t care. 

I don’t care if you think your, or my, life has value. I don’t care if you think your, or I, “deserve” to exist. 

The fact is, we DO exist. 

That’s what I DO know. 

And as long as we exist, we have the responsibility to manage our quality of life. 

There are things about our quality of life that we don’t control. We don’t control many of the things that happen TO us. We don’t control the genes or many of the other biological factors that are handed to us. We don’t control many things about our environment. 

Our job is to get real and proactive about what we DO control. What we CAN impact and manage to create the kind of quality of life we’d prefer. 

I think getting wrapped around the axle about “worthiness” is often a distraction. 

There’s NOT going to be a world in which I just decide that it’s pointless to try to manage our quality of life because we are “unworthy.” 

Worthy or not, I prefer humans to live quality lives. 

I can’t speak to what would make someone “deserve” a high quality of life or not. 

I can only speak to the fact that I want people to live high quality lives. 

I don’t care whether they are “worthy.” I don’t care whether you, reading this right now, think you, or I, are “worthy.” 

I don’t care if you achieve amazing things or no things in your life. I care that you are as happy and comfortable and fulfilled as you can be. 

Why? Not because you do or don’t “deserve” it. 

But because it improves MY quality of life to help you improve YOUR quality of life. 

Don’t sink in the quicksand of ruminating on “worth.” 

Focus in on improving your quality of life today in realistic ways. 

Is avoiding triggers always bad?

You might be shamed— by yourself or others— for avoiding something that triggers you. 

You might tell yourself, or be told by others, that the ONLY way to neutralize a trigger is to expose yourself to it. 

To “white knuckle” your way through it. That you can’t run away from a trigger forever. 

It’s true that there ARE triggers out there in the world, and there’s NO escaping some of them. 

It’s also true that indefinitely AVOIDING certain things keeps them stuck in our heads as threatening or overwhelming, because we don’t get a chance to NOT be threatened or overwhelmed by them out in the real world. 

Here’s the thing: coping with triggers takes energy. Sometimes a LOT of energy. 

Discovering and designing ways to COPE with our triggers takes time. Sometimes a LOT of time. 

It’s just not a practical strategy to go out into the world every day and DEMAND that you white knuckle your way through EVERY trigger in your path. 

We have to pick and choose. 

Sometimes making a strategic decision to AVOID a trigger IS the intelligent decision. 

We don’t have to go down the rabbit hole of shaming ourselves for choosing to avoid certain things at certain times. 

We have a limited amount of focus and energy. Managing that focus and energy intelligently is our BIGGEST job EVERY day. 

There’s no shame in strategically avoiding certain triggers— certain situations, certain people. 

There is also no upside in intentionally confronting certain triggers, situations, and people before we’re ready. 

I deeply understand the impulse to NOT want a memory or a trauma reaction to control you. 

I completely understand WHY some survivors very much WANT to revisit certain physical places in order to “prove” they can be exposed to them without dissociating or otherwise decompensating. And there are times in the healing process when something like that CAN be helpful.

But very often the juice is not worth the squeeze when it comes to intentionally exposing ourselves to certain triggers if we can avoid them. 

I don’t want ANYONE to feel like a trigger or a memory is controlling them. I am 100% on team “let’s rebuild your nervous system such that you’re NOT controlled by anything you don’t want to be controlled by EVER again.” 

But in the course of healing and rebuilding your nervous system, we’re going to have to make some decisions about time, focus, and energy. 

We’re NOT proving anything by charging into a triggering situation without a realistic, comprehensive coping plan (not to mention multiple backup plans). 

We’re NOT supporting our healing by placing our stability at risk just to prove a point to ourselves (or anyone else). 

The trick is knowing when we’re INTELLIGENTLY avoiding something we may NOT have the skills or tools to handle right now— versus when we’re avoiding something we MIGHT actually NEED to confront.

This is one of the MANY decisions in trauma recovery that ISN’T straightforward. 

I know. It sucks. I wish it was more straightforward, too. 

Something that we KNOW about recovery from depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, or trauma (and trauma very often underlies depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders) is that it asks us to be very REAL with ourselves. 

We need to be REAL with ourselves about WHY we want to avoid that trigger. 

We need to be REAL with ourselves about whether it’s SMART to avoid that trigger (and not let fear or trauma reflexes unduly influence our judgment). 

Recovery asks us to be thoughtful and patient with ourselves as we sift through this. 

Yes. It’s a hassle. 

But you are worth the hassle. 

There IS a way to cope with that trigger. And you’re GONNA find it.

You have coping skills and tools already. Yes, you there reading this. 

You may not think of yourself as skillful. But you are. I promise you. 

I know that because you’re reading this. You’ve made it to this moment in time. You’ve studied everything that life has thrown at you so far. 

You might be a little, or a lot, worse for wear. You might be at a point where the skills and tools that have gotten you this far hands outlived their usefulness, or have started to create more problems than they solve. 

But the fact remains that you are a survivor. 

I’m not playing a semantic game here. There are people reading this who have literally survived situations that have tried to kill them, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. 

If you’re reading this, you are NOT learning how to cope or survive from scratch. 

You are, in all likelihood, more resourceful, more clever, more persistent and consistent than you’ve given yourself credit for. 

Survivors often develop distorted ideas about themselves. 

Strong people— people who have endured things that would shatter other people— come to believe that they are weak or fragile. 

Smart people— people who found ways to survive and even thrive under circumstances many people wouldn’t even believe EXIST— come to believe they are stupid or naive’. 

Kind people— people who would happily sacrifice everything they have to ensure the happiness or safety of someone else— come to believe they are selfish. 

We often come to become these things because we are programmed to believe these things— by people who do not want us to fully realize how powerful and independent we truly are. 

People who have a realistic sense of their own agency in the world are tough to control and manipulate— and they are notoriously hard to silence. Hence why you— yes, you reading this— may have had people in your life trying to downplay how capable and worthy you are. 

There really are people reading this who think they don’t have skills, or don’t have the RIGHT skills. 

The “right” skill is the skill that gets you through a tough moment.

If you’re reading this, I guarantee you have, and have had, an entire menagerie of the “right” skills. 

Successful day to day, minute by minute coping begins with reminding ourselves that we CAN and HAVE made it through rough times. 

Successful coping does NOT require us to reinvent the wheel. 

It asks to to draw upon skills and abilities that we KNOW we already possess— but we may have forgotten about in the squeeze of a painful moment. 

The most useful coping skills and tools in YOUR toolbox will build upon who you fundamentally are, how you learn and process information, and how you, specifically, are advantaged or limited in the situation you’re trying to manage. 

(Singing is a skill that makes me feel better, but it’s not exactly something I can bust out when I’m triggered in a meeting in a hospital staff room.) 

Because somebody else’s favorite or most effective coping strategies don’t happen to fit you doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for coping. 

It means that the skills and tools that WILL work for you are going to flow from who YOU are, what helps YOU feel I’m control, what helps YOU remember your deal in the midst of the hurricane around (or inside) you. 

Where it all starts— and continues, every day of your recovery from depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, an eating disorder, or whatever— is REMEMBERING and REINFORCING the basic TRUTH that you are a SURVIVOR (by definition!) and you are SKILLFUL. 

There IS a way to successfully, non-harmfully cope with the EXACT thing that is triggering you. 

And you’re gonna find it. 

We change by working with ourselves, not attacking ourselves.

People will try to tell you that they can tell what you value, by what you do. 

They will try to tell you that because you do something or you don’t do something, then that MUST mean you do or don’t value something. 

“If you really wanted that thing, you’d do X.” 

“If you really valued our friendship, you would’t do Y.” 

“If you really wanted to get over your PTSD, you’d do Z.”

“If you really wanted to quit (insert addiction here), you’d just quit.” 

If only it was that simple. 

It’s really hard to wrap our brains around the fact that we often do things that seem to be in direct opposition to what we actually value. 

We may very much value a relationship…but do things that damage it. 

We may very much want to quit a substance or a behavior…but we keep doing them. 

We may very much want to feel and function differently than we do…but we do things that seem to actively sabotage our chances of EVER feeling and functioning better. 

Then we get very down on ourselves for making such terrible “choices.” 

Human choices are not as simple as we want them to be. 

It’s very much not a matter of “if you value X, you’d obviously do Y.” 

We may VERY MUCH value X and VERY MUCH want to do Y— but there are reasons why we find it really difficult to do Y EVEN THOUGH we value X. 

Especially when our past is painful and complicated, we may have trouble following through on things we know we “should” do. 

Very often we are as confused and frustrated as anyone else by our behavior. 

We may be scared to do the things we know we “should” do. 

We may not believe we CAN do the things we “should” do. 

We may feel too hopeless and helpless to do the things we “should” do. 

There may be lots of reasons why we struggle with our behavior, but no one who does struggle with their behavior is siting back and ENJOYING that struggle. 

Often when we struggle to do what we know we “should” do, we’re HATING on ourselves for struggle. 

But we’re not going to hate ourselves into behaving “better.’ 

What we need to do is try to UNDERSTAND that part of us that’s resisting. 

We need to try to understand it BEYOND “I must be lazy.” 

We need to try to understand it BEYOND “I must not REALLY want what I say I want.” 

We need to approach ourselves with empathy— which may not be easy, especially if we didn’t have a lot of empathy shown to us in our lives. 

If we were told over and over again to shut up and get our sh*t together, we’re probably really good at telling ourselves to shut up and get our sh*t together. 

Thing is, “get your sh*t together” isn’t all that helpful an instruction. 

Most often it means “shove down those stupid EMOTIONS and just do what I want.” 

That approach almost never works in the long run. 

We lose nothing by approaching ourselves with respect. We lose nothing by talking to ourselves supportively. It does not make us “soft.” It does not incline us toward “excuses.” 

If we want to change how we feel and function, we need to approach ourselves in such a way that does not immediately trigger defenses. 

Attacking ourselves will not result in positive change. Mocking ourselves will not result in positive change. Hating ourselves will not result in positive change. 

Humans do not change for the better when they feel threatened. Humans protect themselves when they feel threatened. Humans shut down when they feel threatened. 

We can change how we feel, and we can change what we do. Humans change how they feel and function every day. 

But we only change by working with ourselves, not attacking ourselves. 

We have to work with what we have to work with.

Lots of us kind of gave up on creating the life we want. 

Maybe once upon a time we believed we could be whoever we want and do whatever we want— but then we lived a couple decades. 

And we realized that life had other plans. 

Painful things happened to us. We got our hearts broken. We were treated poorly. 

We were hurt. We experienced loss. 

Our physical bodies were injured, or otherwise developed pain that we then had to live with every single day. 

Over time, many of us lost any last scrap of hope that we could influence our life circumstances all that much. 

We came to believe that our life was going to be about managing pain and dealing with lack. 

For me, it was about realizing that for the rest of my life, every single day, I would wake up and have to manage my vulnerability to depression; my vulnerability to addictive behaviors and substances; and the fact that my executive functioning— my ability to pay attention, make decisions, and follow through— is severely compromised by my ADHD. 

There will never be a day when I wake up and DON’T have to manage my depression, my addiction, and my ADHD. 

No matter what breakthroughs I experience; no matter what skills I learn; no matter how much time passes. I was still dealt the hand I was dealt. Those are still the ONLY cards in my hand. 

On top of that, growing up, I had experiences that exacerbated some symptoms that I was already vulnerable to. I was sexually abused. I was bullied and excluded by my peers. My relationship with my father, who was a brilliant, narcissistic alcoholic, was complicated and painful. 

It’s not a competition, and I know that other people had it “worse.” But that’s not the point. 

The point is, I don’t have the option of NOT having had the past I did or the vulnerabilities I do. Neither do you. 

We don’t have the choice to opt out of who we are and what we’ve experienced. Anybody who says we do, is selling something. 

We only have the choice of whether we are gong to deal with our past and vulnerabilities— and our pain— consciously and purposefully…or whether we’re going to let our past our pain, and our vulnerabilities run the show. 

Once upon a time, I believed I could be somebody. I believed I could create a life. 

Then, life happened. 

For a time I came to believe that, because of the things that had happened to me and the things I now had to deal with every single day, that life was unavailable to me. 

That made me feel hopeless. That thought was central to why I wanted to end my life once upon a time. 

But I don’t believe that anymore. 

What I do believe is this: we have to manage exactly what we have to manage. We don’t get to opt out of it. 

But we can STILL feel many of the things we want to feel. 

What I didn’t understand once upon a time was, the reason I wanted certain things and experiences in my life was because I wanted to FEEL certain things. 

I thought the only way I COULD feel certain things, was by having certain experiences. I thought I NEEDED to life the life I wanted, the life I envisioned, to FEEL those things. 

What I understand now, and didn’t understand then, was: there is no guarantee that certain experiences will lead to certain FEELINGS. 

Moreover, the FEELINGS I wanted? I can STILL experience them. 

They might have been EASIER to feel if I’d had the life I wanted once upon a time. I honestly don’t know. I didn’t get the chance to live that life. 

I only have this life. 

So I made it, and continue to make it, my business to create— consciously, purposefully, consistently— those emotional states I want to FEEL. 

I have learned that there are LOTS of experiences that can generate the FEELINGS I want to feel. 

It may have been easier to feel those things on a consistent basis if I didn’t have the past or the biology I have. Again, I don’t know. I’ll never know. 

But I am not gonna let somebody else— abusers, bullies, any voice from my past— decide what I am and am not capable of feeling right here, right now. 

This isn’t the life I would have chosen. This isn’t the biology I would have chosen. I didn’t have the past I would have preferred. 

But it’s what I have to work with. 

And I’m gonna make it work. Watch me. 

Our old skills helped us survive. But recovery is about more than survival.

I haven’t always coped as well as I thought I “should.”

I haven’t even coped as well as I THOUGHT I coped. 

When you survive a rough childhood, you tend to get a lot of pats on the back for your “resilience.” So much so that many trauma survivors I know are sick to DEATH of being told how “resilient” they are. 

But there’s also this temptation t think that surviving a traumatic early life (or surviving ANY traumatic time of your life) means that you’ve successfully coped— and that’s true, in a way. 

Yes, the things we did to survive DID help us survive. 

The fact that you’re reading this and I’m writing this means we BOTH survived. 

But a lot of us are now faced with the work of undoing not only the damage done by whatever we went through— but how we “coped.” 

Our coping “skills” deserve all the credit tin the universe for keeping us alive— but we need to be realistic about the toll some of them took on us.

Some people “coped” with overwhelming situations by completely shutting down their emotional lives. And that “skill” did help them survive. 

Some people “coped” by completely isolating themselves socially, completely rejecting any attempts to connect— and that “skill” may have helped them survive, too. 

Some people “coped” with the support of substances that soothed and numbed them— and, make no mistake, substance use under certain circumstances can absolutely help someone survive, depending on the alternatives. 

I don’t think anybody reading this needs to apologize for doing what they needed to do to survive once upon a time. 

But we need to be real about the costs. 

The coping “skills” that got us by once upon a time may not be the skills we need to build a life in the here and now. 

We may think we have all the coping skills we need, because we survived something horrific. 

But it’s not that simple. 

The skills that got us through what we went through deserve our gratitude.

But we don’t need to hang on to them just for the sake of hanging on to them. 

We don’t want to have survived the past just to ruin our lives in the present by doubling down on old coping tools that don’t serve us anymore. 

I didn’t survive abuse and neglect in the past, only to have my future destroyed by addiction. 

Developing and using coping skills is the least interesting, most frustrating part of recovery. I remember visibly recoiling when a therapist uttered the word “cope” to me for the first time. 

But it turns out coping skills aren’t optional if our goal is to meaningfully heal. 

I thought I was too smart and too tough to need coping skills. I thought the fact that I had survived what I’d survived was proof enough I knew how to “cope.” 

My addictive patterns— which blossomed into problems related to, but quite separate from, the pain of my past— proved how full of sh*t I was on that one. 

Yes, how I handled feelings and stress allowed me to survive my past. But I had to re-learn lots of skills so that I didn’t sacrifice my present and my future. 

44 year old me needs different tools and skills than 22 year old me did. 

I know, I know. Just the phrase “coping skills” is irritating. And recovery is ABSOLUTELY about more than just learning how to “cope.” 

But the basics are the basics for a reason. 


Once upon a time I thought I could skip the basics. 

But that’s just not how meaningful, reliable recovery— recovery you can trust, recovery that creates a base to build a new life— is built.