Our wants, our fears, and our parts.

Sometimes what we want and need is going to conflict. 

This is especially true if our history includes complicated or painful relationships. 

We may want the closeness and stimulation that comes from a relationship…but our history may have convinced us that letting ourselves be close to and stimulated by another person is dangerous. 

We may want to be recognized for what we can do and what we’ve achieved…but our history may have convinced us that sticking our head up is asking for mockery or scorn. 

We may want to live and thrive…but our history may have convinced us that we have nothing to live for and it’s impossible to thrive. 

As we heal from the pain of our past and recover from our emotional and behavioral struggles, we very often become acutely aware of how contradictory some of our wants and needs are. 

This very often leads us feeling paralyzed. 

It’s hard to even explain to someone why we might be ambivalent about something most people would consider “good,” like a relationship or a promotion. 

They don’t understand that for many of us, “good” things always came with a catch. 

For many of us, our complicated history makes it difficult or impossible to set straightforward goals. 

We may want to give up a substance or behavior that is hurting us…but that substance or behavior may also be our only source of pleasure or consistency in our world right now. 

We may want to regain our functionality…but we might be incredibly intimidated by what would be expected or asked of us if we weren’t too depressed to function. 

We may want to do something as simple as leave the house…but we may be literally terrified to the point of dissociation about what we might encounter out there in the world. 

All of this makes therapy and recovery complicated. 

Many of us are very exhausted by the tug of war that is CONSTANTLY going on in our head and heart between our desires and our fears. 

It’s almost easier to stay numb— to stay depressed, hopeless, stuck— than to try to navigate the anxiety and pressure that comes with feeling and functioning better. 

Easy does it. 

We’re never going to be wholly WITHOUT these conflicting feelings, desires, and needs. 

Different parts of us are going to perceive, feel, want, and need different, and sometimes conflicting, things. 

It’s up to us to listen to the various parts of ourselves, and make sure the various versions of “us” are respected— no matter what course of action we actually end up taking. 

The truth is, NOBODY is wholly consistent with what they want and need EVERY minute of EVERY day. 

We make certain choices based on what’s best for our safety and stability— but we can stay flexible in how we approach life. 

We can listen to BOTH the part of us that wants to feel and function better— and the part of us that might be anxious about it. 

We can listen to BOTH the part of us that wants to be out in the world— and the part of us that is genuinely afraid of what we might encounter out there. 

The really important thing is that we don’t deny, disown, ignore, or neglect anything we’re aware of thinking or feeling. 

The various “parts” of us need to know that they WILL be listened to and respected— that they don’t need to “hijack” our focus or consciousness in order to get our attention. 

If we try to deny or disown “parts” of us when they try to tell us something, those “parts” WILL make their “voices” heard— often in the form of overwhelming feelings, psychological symptoms, or even physical sensations. 

Yes, the tug of war is always going to be there. Our job is not necessarily to stop that back and forth between what we want and what we fear. 

Our job is to realistically, compassionately deal with the various “parts” of ourselves, such that ANY decisions we end up making, ANY actions we end up taking, are consistent with our safety and stability— today. 

When loss is unexpected– and unfair.

Loss is very often hard. 

But it hits harder when it’s a loss that “shouldn’t happen. 

There are certain losses that as painful as they are, we can sort of anticipate. We can kind of steel ourselves for them. 

Those losses can still hurt, very much— but at least we have some emotional warning. 

Then there are losses that come out of nowhere. 

When we lose someone or something that we “shouldn’t.” 

When we weren’t prepared— had no inkling that we’d need to be prepared to lose that person or thing at that time. 

Dealing with any kind of major loss at any time can be tough— but getting hit with an unexpected loss can really throw our emotional world into chaos. 

Many losses feel unfair. Many losses ARE unfair. 

But to get hit with a loss we “shouldn’t” have to endure— not now, not in this way— can feel infuriatingly unfair…and it can disrupt our lives in profound ways. 

We know, as a general principle, that life isn’t fair. 

We know, as a general principle, that life isn’t even guaranteed— that every day, every minute, might be our last, or the last for someone we care about. 

Nobody reading this is under the delusion that anything lasts forever. 

But there are certain losses that we’re just not ready for. 

Grieving an unexpected, unpredictable loss is a different task than normal grief. 

In addition to experiencing and expressing our feelings of pain at the loss, we’re also stuck with all of these feelings of fury and disbelief surrounding how sudden and unfair the loss was. 

You’ve likely heard of the traditional stages of grief— denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance— and it’s true that many people experiencing loss do go through these stages (though the sequence of those stages tends to be a little less rigid than we previously realized). 

When a loss is unexpected, however, we tend to spend more time in the “denial” and “anger” stages than we otherwise would. 

You’re not wrong to be angry. 

You’re not wrong to be in shock. 

You’re not wrong or immature to be “stuck” on how unfair a sudden, unpredictable loss is. 

One of my favorite song lyrics is by John Lennon, who wrote in his song “Beautiful Boy” that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

It’s all too real. 

We need to know that the pain we’re experiencing is very valid. 

We need to know that there’s no rapid resolution to our grief— especially if the loss we’re grieving was sudden or unexpected. 

We ned to know that this process, of coming to terms with what we feel and need, is going to take exactly the time it takes. 

I very often write about how patience and self-compassion are non-negotiable skills in recovery— and nowhere are those skills more necessary than when we’re hit with complicated grief. 

If you’re reading this and mourning a complicated or unexpected loss, the last thing you want to hear may be “this takes the time it takes.” 

I wish I had different news for you. 

What I can tell you, however, is that you’re not the first or the last person to feel pain like this. 

Loss sucks. 

Unexpected loss sucks in a particularly awful way. 

There are no “rules” for how to navigate any of this. 

Just stay with those wounded parts of yourself— however long this takes. 

Faith, hope(lessness), and recovery.

Some days it is really hard to have hope. 

Some days we really struggle to see or believe there really is light at the end of this “recovery” tunnel— at least, light that isn’t an oncoming train. 

That happens to almost everybody in recovery. It definitely happens to me. 

Hopelessness chips away at our motivation, our focus, our physical energy, our resourcefulness. 

Recovery takes a tremendous amount of energy— and, as strange as it might sound, faith. 

Lots of times we just don’t believe that there really is meaningful recovery for people like us. 

We want to, we try to…but we don’t. 

On days like that it can feel like we’re flying blind— like we’re lost in a sky full of clouds, trusting our compass and other instruments to keep us pointed in the right direction. 

When I say “faith” in this context, I’m not talking about spirituality. I’m talking about behaving as if something is true— even if we don’t have direct evidence of it. 

Some days recovery is undeniably like that. 

I don’t have proof that this “recovery” thing works out for everybody. 

I don’t have proof that recovery is even going to work out for me. 

There are days when I’m definitely of multiple minds on the subject. 

Part of me can get very hopeless at times. 

Part of me can really struggle with the idea that it’s worth it, pushing back against addiction, trauma, depression— that the stupid little skills and tools that I use and teach are nothing in the face of the emotional and behavioral hurricane that is addiction, trauma, and depression. 

Some days that part of me can be VERY persuasive. 

But then, there’s this other part of me— this part that says even if you DON’T wholeheartedly believe it right now, your recovery deserves the benefit of the doubt. 

That’s where my hope lives. 

I’ve learned, in my own recovery, that I don’t, actually, have to have COMPLETE faith in the process to keep going. 

I’ve learned that I don’t need to COMPLETELY believe in every coping tool or skill to USE that tool or skill. 

I’ve learned that some days I’m going to be frustrated or sad, and think that this is ALL bullsh*t…but that I can keep going in my recovery EVEN IF part of me thinks it’s all bullsh*t. 

I’ve learned that my hope can coexist with my hopelessness. 

I’ve learned my faith can coexist with my doubt. 

I’ve learned that I don’t have to throw my entire recovery down the garbage chute just because part of me is thoroughly convinced it’s pointless in any one moment. 

We are GOING to have not just moments, but probably DAYS where hope is in short supply— where the pain and hassle of recovery is far more real than any supposed long term benefit. 

Speaking for myself, those are the days that present the most danger to my recovery. 

On those days, the name of the game very often is surfing those thoughts instead of drowning in them. 

That hopeless part of you will try to make you overreact to its emotional reasoning— and you’re going to want to. 

But don’t. 

Let that hopeless, hurt part of you exist. Don’t demand it shut up, don’t demand it go away. Let it say its piece. 

It’s a part of you, and its voice is valid. It has a right to be heard. 

But it doesn’t have a right to derail you from a recovery you’ve worked hard to build, day by day. 

Let the hopelessness exist— but remember that, as overwhelming as it can feel at times, you are more than that hopelessness. 

The very fact that you’re reading this tells me there is a part of you that is STILL hopeful. That is STILL invested in your recovery. 

A part of you that STILL has faith. 

Give that faith and hope the benefit of the doubt. 

If you’re going to give up, you can always give up later. 

For right now— stay with us. 

Trauma, addiction, control, and seduction.

To grow up bullied, abused, or neglected, is to grow up without experiencing a lot of control. 

We learn early, and all too well, that we don’t control what happens to us or how people behave toward us. 

We learn that we very often don’t control how we feel. 

To grow up feeling so overwhelmingly powerless is scary, frustrating, and sad. 

We end up not wanting to get too attached to or invested in anything or anyone— because we’ve learned that it can be yanked away from us at any moment, for no particular reason. 

We live in a constant state of anxiety, because if we “know” anything, it’s that we DON’T know what happens next…except that it will probably hurt on some level. 

At the same time, our brain is constantly looking for ways to feel even a LITTLE more in control of our life experience— specifically, how we feel. 

Many people reading this would give anything to be able to feel even slightly more in control of how we feel. 

Which is why we get vulnerable to addictive and compulsive behaviors— they present the illusion of control. 

When we’re desperately thirsty, we will absolutely crawl toward a mirage of water, on the off chance that it’s even sort of, kind of real. 

Certain behaviors and substances promise to change how we feel— and sometimes they even work. At first, anyway. For a minute, anyway. 

When those substances and behaviors DO work— even if they work imperfectly— it can feel AMAZING to a person who has felt overwhelmed and powerless their entire life. 

We get hooked not just on how those substances or behaviors make us feel…but on the idea that there might be a reliable way to change how we feel that WE choose, that WE are in control of. 

It’s such a seductive promise. 

It’s so seductive that I’m kind of tearing up right now, writing this. 

I wish it was real and lasting. 

But substances and behaviors of addiction are, in the end, liars. 

They promise us control while surreptitiously chipping away at our ability to make meaningful decisions. 

Many substances and behaviors of addiction create physical conditions that make it impossible to think clearly, set boundaries, and protect ourselves. 

But many of us will take that risk if it means having even a little control over how we feel. 

I don’t blame anyone reading this for wanting, desperately, to have control over how they feel. I know that’s what I want, more than anything in the world. 

I don’t blame anyone reading this for being willing to experiment with substances and behaviors that promise relief and control. I’ve done plenty of that. 

I just want you to read these words, so that maybe they’ll echo in your head when you need them: the “control” promised by certain substances and behaviors is illusory. 

It’s not real. 

When we are suffering, when we’ve BEEN suffering for years, we are particularly vulnerable to the promise of pleasure, relief, and control. 

That’s normal. It’s not a character flaw. We are not vulnerable to addiction because there’s something wrong or bad about us. 

I know. You just want to feel better. Me too. 

But we have to be real about what certain substances and behaviors can and can’t do for us. 

And we have to be real about the cost that those substances and behaviors will eventually extract from us— especially after we’ve become dependent upon them. 

There’s a reason why addiction is often a particular problem for people with trauma in our history. 

A history of bullying, abuse, or neglect sets us up for that vulnerability. 

It’s not our fault. 

But it’s our responsibility to manage that vulnerability. 

Even if it means giving up a promise so sweet and seductive that it virtually blinds us to everything else. 

You are not “bad.”

Experiencing abuse or neglect often fosters in us a sense that we’re bad. 

Undeserving. Unlovable. Toxic. 

Why would the people who were supposed to look out for me, protect me, love me, do the exact opposite— unless I somehow wasn’t deserving of care, attention, and love? 

That’s the kind of question our traumatized brain often throws at us. 

When we’re kids, we very often assume that others’ behavior is necessarily about us. 

Part of growing up is coming to realize that, while we may influence others’ behavior toward us, we don’t control it. We’re not totally responsible for either the good OR the bad things that happen to us. 

The thing is, for us to really get this, we need the appropriate amount of support from our caretakers— the people who, in an ideal world, will be real with us about the limit of our influence on the world, but also help us cope with it. 

Lots of us didn’t get that kind of support from our caretakers. 

This isn’t about “blaming” anyone for not having had the “perfect” childhood. 

This is just being real about what NOT getting the emotional support we need at particularly vulnerable times does to our self-concept. 

As babies, we are kind of wired to try to figure out what we need to do to get the important people in our lives to interact with us. 

When we’re that young, interaction with— attention from— our caretakers really might be a matter of life or death. Infants can’t survive on their own without a LOT of care. 

If we can’t seem to figure that equation out— if we’re doing everything we can to try to get attention and care from our caregivers, and it’s just not working— it’s hard for us to escape the conclusion that we must be to blame. 

We must not be that lovable. 

If we take a step back, as adults, we can understand— at least intellectually— that there are LOTS of reasons why adult caretakers may not be able or willing to extend to their kids the kind of care and attention they need…and almost NONE of those reasons have to do with the kids. 

Competent parents don’t abuse or neglect their kids— whether or not they find them “lovable.” 

Getting the attention and care we needed to survive once upon a time should’t have been a matter of us being endearing to the adults around us. It should have been a given. 

If it wasn’t, we tend to blame ourselves. 

All of which leads us to what adult victims of childhood abuse or neglect often feel every day— unworthy. Undeserving. Inadequate. 

A big part of recovery is deciding that EVEN IF we feel unworthy, undeserving, or inadequate, we are STILL going to relate to OURSELVES with respect, kindness, and fairness. 

A big part of recovery is deciding NOT to blame and shame ourselves for the behavior of the adults around us when we were kids. 

A big part of recovery is making the commitment that, no matter how “bad” we FEEL, that we will NOT pick up where toxic people from our past left off in either abusing OR neglecting ourselves. 

You are not inherently “bad.” The fact that you may have been abused or neglected growing up is not EVIDENCE that you were bad. 

It may be evidence that the adults around you were unable or unwilling to do what they needed to do for you— but that wasn’t your responsibility and it’s not your fault. 

The kid you once were, and who you still carry around in your head and heart, needs to know that it wasn’t their fault that the adults around them did or didn’t do. 

No human being is perfect, and this isn’t about demanding “perfection” from anybody. 

This is correcting the fundamental distortion that exists at the heart of many trauma survivors— the belief that “I am bad.” 

You’re not. 

No matter what your trauma is whispering in your ear as you read this. 

“But it happened so long ago…I should be over it by now.”

“It happened so long ago— I should be over it now.”


I wish it worked like that. 

I wish it just took the passage of time to heal the damage that abuse, neglect, and other forms of trauma do to our nervous and endocrine systems. 

But it doesn’t work that way. 

Time can often help heal trauma, because it gives us more opportunities to do the things we need to do to heal. 

But the passage of time doesn’t mean we automatically heal. 

Often people say things like “it happened so long ago, you should be over it by now” because they struggle to imagine or believe that we can continue to be affected by something that seems like it happened to a different person. 

It’s true that you were a different person then. 

But the person you’ve been every day since has been impacted by what happened to that person. 

Something we know about trauma is that its effects are often delayed and cumulative. 

Sometimes we think we’re fine in the immediate aftermath of an intense or painful situation…only to have symptoms and struggles appear and intensify over the course of weeks, months, and years. 

This can be confusing. If what happened really impacted us, why are its affects taking so long to manifest? 

Trauma, as it turns out, doesn’t care what we think “makes sense.” 

We are VERY often still impacted by events and relationships that feel like they happened a lifetime ago.

We don’t get to opt out because we feel something happened too long ago to possibly affect us now. 

We can TRY to deny, disown, or dissociate from what’s happening to us right here, right now, pretend that it doesn’t have any connection to what we went through once upon a time…but the more we do that, the tougher it’s going to be to ACTUALLY assess and address our strong feelings and urgent needs. 

If you’re reading this, chances are good that your feelings and needs weren’t seen or taken seriously once upon a time. 

We’ve had enough emotional neglect to last a lifetime. 

Let’s not do it to ourselves now. 

There’s no shame in something that happened a long time ago affecting you now. 

It happens to MANY people— and it has nothing to do with strength, intelligence, toughness, or character. 

I hear you. It’s hard to really convince ourselves, as adults, that things we barely remember (or maybe that we DON’T remember) can have such a huge impact on our lives and relationships now. 

We don’t want to believe it. I would certainly prefer that wasn’t true. 

But if we’re serious about recovery, we have to see what we see and know what we know. 

Even if that takes us back to people and places that we don’t want to admit had an effect on us— that we never thought we’d have to revisit again. 

The good news is, you’re not the first person this has happened to— and you’re not alone. 

People have walked this path before you. And there ARE people who will walk it with you, if that’s what you need. 

Just take one day at a time. 

Inner safety and our old BS (Belief Systems).

Making the inside of our head a safe place for ourselves isn’t the ONLY thing involved in recovery— but it might be the most important. 

It won’t really matter how safe or stable it is outside of us, if inside our own head we’re still attacking and sabotaging ourselves. 

Many people who have painful, complicated histories are really cruel to themselves inside their own head. 

How we talk to ourselves can be brutal. 

A lot of the time we can really struggle with giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. 

Often we’ll struggle to believe we are worthy of pleasure or other positive emotions— after all, what have we done to “deserve” or “earn” positive experiences, huh? 

Much of the time how harsh we are with ourselves has been learned over time. 

We learned how to be cruel to us by watching and experiencing other people be cruel to us. 

For many people reading this, it never even occurred to them that there was a way to talk to themselves OTHER than sarcastically or harshly. 

For some people reading this, being kind to themselves feels fake or indulgent. 

We’re thoroughly convinced in our own minds that we don’t “deserve” kindness or fairness. 

We often feel guilty when OTHER people are kind and fair to us, because we haven’t don’t anything to “earn” it and often feel unworthy of it. 

Many of these negative feelings and believes about ourselves are rooted in the past. 

They’re so familiar, they “feel” right. 

We don’t think to question them, because they’re basically what we grew up with. It’d be like a fish questioning the water in its bowl. 

We often grow up feeling undeserving and incapable, because that was the feedback we received, either directly or indirectly, from the people we were supposed to be able to trust and believe. 

When we’re kids, we don’t have the cognitive machinery to sift through the validity of the messages we receive about ourselves. 

We just kind of take it all in. 

Beliefs about who we are and what we’re all about get programmed into us— and they take root. 

Over time we lose any sense that those beliefs and feelings aren’t actually, objectively true— they’re just what we were told over and over again. 

Fast forward to now, and it’s EXTREMELY hard to convince ourselves that those old feelings and beliefs may not be the entire story. 

We are way more complex than any belief system from when we were kids could possibly encapsulate. 

Whether we are or aren’t worthy or deserving isn’t a function of whether we were or weren’t loved or cared for by the people who should have been there for us once upon a time. 

We may FEEL like we do or don’t deserve love and care based upon what we were told and how we were treated back then…but those feelings are a reflection of those early experiences. Not reality. 

Making the inside of our head a safe place for ourselves means refusing to echo and reinforce the mean things we were told once upon a time. 

Making the inside of our head a safe place for ourselves means refusing to launch attacks on ourselves that we can’t escape, because they’re coming from inside us. 

We are with ourselves 24/7. When our relationship with ourselves is hostile, that means we’re vulnerable to attack 24/7. 

How can we possibly recover, especially from trauma, when we have to be on guard every minute of every day like that? 

We can’t. 

There are LOTS of things that we can and should do in recovery to decrease our vulnerability. 

But whatever else we do, we NEED to prioritize that relationship with ourselves. 

We NEED the inside of our head to be a safe space for us. 

We NEED our heart to be a sacred space for us. 

What’s more: we DESERVE that safe and sacred space within us. 

No matter what that voice in your head is saying right now. 

Staying in recovery– even when the world is on fire.

In the world of trauma recovery, you hear many versions of “it’s safe now.” 

The assumption underpinning these kinds of statements is usually something like, yes, once upon a time your life WAS dangerous; but now you’re grown up and away from the people who hurt you, so you’re safe now. 

We’re presented with this idea that the big problem is convincing ourselves that the world really is “safe” now. That if we can only change our thoughts and beliefs about the safety of the world, we’d feel and function better. 

The problem is: the world may not be objectively “safe” now. 

Right now, dozens of people reading this are feeling unsafe because of events that are unfolding on national and international levels. 

Dozens more are in objectively dangerous situations in their home or work lives due to some of the people they have no choice but to interact with. 

“Safety” is not clear cut out there— even when we’re adults. 

No one gets to tell you which aspects of an objectively dangerous world out there you “should” be worried about. 

No one gets to tell you you’re worried about the “wrong” thing— especially if you’re in a position where the threats to your safety, stability, livelihood, or even your life, have been well-established. 

I’m certainly not going to try sell you the idea that all you need to do is convince yourself that you’re “safe” now. 

How the hell would I know? 

The things that put me, a white, overeducated, relatively professionally successful male, in danger might be VERY different from what puts you in danger. 

I don’t get a vote on what your nervous system “should” take seriously as a threat. 

Here’s what I do know, as someone who struggles daily with recovery from trauma, depression, and addiction: whether there are or aren’t “objectively” dangerous threats out there today, it is STILL my job to string together moment-by-moment safety and stability in MY life today. 

That DOESN’T mean ignoring what’s happening on a national or international level. 

But it DOES mean redirecting our attention, again and again and again, to the micro-level where our day to day, moment by moment choices really can make a difference in whether we stay safe, stable, and sober today. 

I WISH ignoring political and legal situations happening “out there” was an option— but for most of us with eyes, ears, and empathy, it isn’t. 

We need to pay exactly as much attention as we need to pay to those situations— and we have to manage the triggers and memories that those situations are going to evoke in us. 

But however we handle the pervasive cultural situations and stressors that surround us and permeate our public discourse, we need to be CLEAR that our FIRST commitment has to be to our own safety, stability, and functioning, WHATEVER happens. 

We can’t let what we see on the news derail us. 

It’s hard. Your depression, trauma, addiction, eating disorder, or other struggle is going to try to take what’s happening out there, and turn it into an excuse to relapse, backslide, or otherwise neglect or give up on your recovery. 

You need to know, though: if you have passionate feelings about what’s going on in the political and legal sphere right now, the world needs you, and we need you safe, stable, and functioning. 

If we’re going to change how this world works and protect the most vulnerable among us along the way, we can’t be overwhelmed with our emotional and behavioral struggles. 

We need to be thinking as clearly as possible, managing what we’re feeling, and making decisions that are congruent with our values and the world we want to see. 

Yes. What’s happening “out there” truly is important— and triggering, for valid reasons. 

If you care about “out there,” keep reeling it in and refocusing on you. 

You know the drill. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. 

If we care about THEIR quality of life, we have to protect and defend OUR quality of life today. 

I refuse to let a bad night burn my recovery down.

You’re going to have days— and especially nights— when your feelings get away from you. 

You’re going to have days— and nights— when you feel like your ENTIRE personality has been short-circuited by triggers and trauma responses. 

You’re going to have days— and nights— when you don’t especially recognize yourself…and when you don’t especially like the person you DO see. 

No doubt about it: we are not ourselves when we’re triggered. 

We are not ourselves when we’re desperate. 

We are not ourselves when we’re yanked back in time in an emotional, somatic, or sensory flashback. 

When we come out of those reactions, the temptation can be to kind of get swallowed up by embarrassment or shame. 

We might look back on who we were or what we did when we were triggered with frustration or sadness. 

We don’t want to be THAT person, we might tell ourselves. Who even WAS that last night? 

Sometimes our frustration or shame can make it really hard to get back on track with our recovery. 

Why even bother, we might say to ourselves, if THIS is what happens when I get freaked out? 

I know. I’ve been there. Almost everybody reading these words has been there. 

The day after an abreaction, dissociative fugue, or relapse, can be brutal. 

It can leave us questioning who we are, or if we can even hack this “recovery” thing. 

You need to know that you are NOT the first, last or only person to feel this way. 

You also need to know that almost EVERYONE who has EVER made progress in recovery from depression, trauma, addiction, an eating disorder, or any other emotional or behavioral struggle, has felt this way. 

Think of the person whose recovery journey you most admire, someone, who you think really has it together. 

I GUARANTEE that they, the person you just thought of, have felt like this. 

They, the person you just thought of, have asked themselves if they can really succeed at recovery. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned about recovery through my own experience is that it doesn’t live or die based on a bad night or even a bad streak. 

We who are in recovery tend to do that. We take detours. We get overwhelmed. It happens. 

If recovery was a one-and-done decision, and if human beings were capable of simply turning things around with a one-and-done decision, than we probably wouldn’t be vulnerable to depression, trauma, addiction, eating disorders, or other struggles to begin with. 

Those who succeed at recovery aren’t the ones who don’t run into problems, complications, or awful days or nights. 

They’re the ones who can pick up the pieces the next day— even though they’re embarrassed, frustrated, or discouraged. 

Right here, right now, I can tell you: I am GOING to have a bad day or night. Maybe not today, maybe not tonight, and probably not as frequently as I used to— but it’s going to happen. I’m GOING to be tempted to throw my recovery in the trash and do things that are harmful or counterproductive to the life I’m trying to create. 

I can also tell you: even when that happens, it will NOT be where my story ends. 

That’s the decision I’ve made. 

I DON’T have control over whether I have a bad night (though, as we get better and better at the recovery tools and skills, we DO tend to have more and more INFLUENCE over how often those nights occur and how bad they get). 

I DO have control over whether a bad night burns my recovery— including my relationships with the people I love— to the ground. 

I’ve decided that whatever happened last night, or whatever happens tomorrow night— I will pick up the pieces. 

As many pieces, and as many times, as I have to. 

Come at me. 

Relapse and toxic shame’s bullsh*t.

Backsliding and relapse happens. 

It’s not evidence that we suck. It’s not evidence that we’re not trying. 

It’s evidence that recovery is really hard. No more; no less. 

Our depression, addiction, or trauma might try to use a backslide or a relapse to bury us with shame. 

We might hear a voice in our head telling us that we backslid or relapsed because we suck, or because we’re not tough enough, or because we don’t “want” recovery enough. 

It’s not true. 

Nobody LIKES backsliding or relapsing. It’s frustrating. It’s often painful. 

it sucks to see ground we’d gained, lost. 

Sometimes when we backslide or relapse it has very real consequences for those around us. 

It’s perfectly legit to HATE all of that. I hate it when it happens to me. 

We can take responsibility for the pain and inconvenience our struggles cause other people— without letting shame take over and convince us that we are irredeemable as people. 

The truth is, struggling in recovery is not about “toughness” or “character.” 

It’s usually about the fact that we got overwhelmed, and weren’t able to access just the right skill or tool at the moment. 

It happens. 

I’m not saying that backsliding or relapsing “doesn’t matter.” Of course it matters. The stakes are high in recovery, and often we very much do have a lot to lose. 

You bet we’re gonna feel bad when we relapse. We might feel guilty, or confused, or frustrated. 

It’s really important to NOT let a backslide or relapse crack the door for toxic shame to sneak in and make us feel fundamentally horrible about ourselves. 

You are not a bad person because you struggle. 

I don’t care if this is your first time or your hundredth time starting over after a relapse— you are not hopeless. 

Toxic shame tries to tell us that we struggle not because this stuff is hard, but because WE are somehow deficient. 

Toxic shame tries to tell us that other people don’t struggle as much as we do, because they are better or more determined or more moral than we. 

Toxic shame tries to tell us that no matter how hard we try, we’re still going to fail, because we are who we are. 

Toxic shame lies. 

Toxic shame doesn’t care about why this is hard. All it cares about is you feeling a certain kind of way. 

If you notice, toxic shame uses language that tends to be very similar to the language used by certain people in our lives once upon a time. 

Toxic shame wants YOU to pick up where your abusers and bullies left off. 

Toxic shame wants YOU to collaborate in your own abuse. 

Toxic shame wants to take the focus of this whole project off of the skills, tools, and tasks of recovery, and put that focus on you as a person. 

That’s not the route to success. 

You have exactly the same chance at recovery as anyone. I don’t care how old you are, I don’t care what your history is, I don’t care how you arrived at this point. 

Even if you’re starting over right here, right now. Even if you’re at Square One— and even if this isn’t your first time at Square One.

Your job today is the same as anybody else’s in recovery for anything else: managing your thoughts, feelings, and behavior one day, one hour, one minute at a time. 

If you’re reading this, it’s not too late. 

Just handle today. 

Just handle this sixty seconds. 

I believe in you. I really do.