Yeah, we have responsibility. No, it’s not our “fault.”

Of course we contribute to some of the pain in our life. 

And, of course we’re not responsible for all of the pain or bad things in our life. 

Our brain very often wants to make it an all-or-nothing thing…but that’s just not how the world works. 

Why does our brain do this? 

Often, it’s because we’ve been told, over and over again, that we’re bad and we deserve to feel bad. 

Unfortunately, there are a LOT of people out there who strongly buy into the idea that nothing can make us feel bad without our consent or participation. 

They often conceptualize suffering as a “choice.” (They very often use the quote, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” to dramatize this idea.) 

The idea being, if you’re suffering, it’s your fault.

According to this perspective, if you want to stop suffering, you simply need to choose to not suffer. 

In the real world, things are simply not that straightforward. 

When we’ve been programmed with the idea that we “deserve” to suffer, snapping out of it is not as easy as making a different choice. 

Our patterns of thinking, feeling, and responding aren’t consciously chosen again and again and again. They are conditioned. They are on autopilot. 

Often we didn’t choose them in the first place. They were chosen or modeled for us, often in childhood, and we didn’t realize that we had options. 

Changing our conditioning doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. To change our automatic responses to a trigger or cue, we have to realize what’s happening; be aware of our options; push back against our automatic thoughts, feelings, and responses and CHOOSE a different option; and we have to do it again and again and again as our brain literally, physiologically changes. 

All of that’s way more complicated— and exhausting— than “make a different choice.” “Choose not to suffer.” 

We CAN change our response patterns. We CAN develop new habits of thinking, feeing, and behaving. But we need to get off of this idea that if we’re suffering we are somehow “choosing” to suffer— that if we struggle to change, we’re “choosing” to “stay stuck.” 

We didn’t arrive at these patterns overnight. We were conditioned and programmed.

We won’t break these patterns overnight. We need to be reconditioned and reprogrammed— and we’re working against conditioning and programming that feels “right” because it’s very familiar. 

Self-blame for our pain is really a dead end. 

There’s a difference between taking realistic responsibility for our choices, and harshly blaming ourselves. 

Self blame basically starts and ends with, “you deserve to feel this way because of your choices. After all, what did you think was going to happen?” 

Taking responsibility is about realistically acknowledging the role we play in what we’re experiencing— whether that role is relatively large or relatively smaller. 

The idea that we are totally responsible for our experience simply doesn’t jibe with reality. 

Yes, our attitude matters. Yes, what we picture in our heads matters. There are lots of factors within us that can make certain feelings and outcomes more or less likely or consistent. 

But we need to get away from this black and white way of thinking about self blame and personal responsibility. 

As a rule, if you find yourself trying to make declarative, sweeping statements about whether you are or aren’t responsible for something— push pause. Back up. Take a realistic look at what you’re saying. 

More often than not, successful management of feelings and behavior is found in the nuances. The shades of grey. 

Easy does it. Take your time and take a breath. 

We’re ALL learning this as we go. 

You’ll never have a better– or a worse– past.

I don’t know anyone who is “wallowing” in the past. 

I know a LOT of people who are struggling right here, right now, in the present; and they’ve come to understand that things that have happened in the past have contributed to their present struggles. 

I know people who are trying, very hard, to understand how what has happened to them in the past impacted them. 

I know people who are trying, very hard, to find a way to function in the present without feeling like the past is slapping them in the face almost every second of every day. 

But none of that means they’re “wallowing” in the past. 

People who have had painful things happen to them are very used to being accused of “wallowing.” 

The assumption among many seems to be that if someone is focused on understanding the role of the past in their present functioning, they are choosing to stay “stuck” in the past. 

Believe me: no one is trying to stay “stuck in the past.” 

I’ve never met a single person who is struggling with their past, who wouldn’t gladly give up the ability to ever think about the past again, if it meant releasing that struggle. 

Unfortunately, “just move on from the past” isn’t a strategy. 

We don’t think about the past, let alone obsessively, for no reason. 

We think about the past because something happened that impacted our nervous system. 

We think about the past because we’re trying to understand what the hell happened— and how the hell we can move on. 

When you’re in a car accident, and your car is badly damaged, and you bring it into the repair shop, the mechanic is going to ask you “what happened?” 

That mechanic isn’t trying to “fixate on the past.” They’re trying to understand the damage that your car has sustained. 

The better we understand our damage, the more effectively we can plan how to respond to that damage. 

Healing isn’t about the past. It’s about the present and the future. 

But in order to understand what we’re up against and what we have to work with in the present and the future, very often we have to understand and revisit our past. 

If you can’t stop thinking about the past, you’re not alone. 

If your past is in your face every day in the form of flashbacks or abreactions, you’re not alone. 

You’re not alone and you’re not “choosing” to stay “stuck in the past.” 

Don’t shame yourself for struggling to come to terms with your past. 

Don’t insist or expect that you NEVER think about the past. 

Don’t let anyone else tell you you’re “doing it wrong” because the past is something that you think about every day. 

It’s true that there tend to be productive and less productive ways to think about and engage with our past, and sometimes we need to acquire and develop skills and tools that let us engage with our past without getting sucked back into it. 

But we can do that. 

Our past is what it is. We’ll never have a better past— but we’ll never have a worse past, either. 

The name of the game is creating a present and future we can live with and love and be present in— and sometimes to do that we have to learn different ways of relating to our past. 

We can do that, too. 

Easy does it. You’re not expected to know exactly how to do all of this, certainly not all at once. 

We start with self-compassion and self-honesty— and a commitment to being and staying rooted in the present, even as we engage with the past. 

Breathe. 

Challenging our own BS.

We’re handed a lot of BS— Belief Systems— from our past. 

We’re handed BS about who we are. 

We’re handed BS about what we can and can’t do. 

We’re handed BS about whether we’re worthy— and what we have to do and be to BECOME worthy. 

When something is a belief, especially an old belief, we tend not to question it. It just feels “right.” 

Questioning familiar beliefs, even painful beliefs, often provokes anxiety. 

It can feel like we’re challenging or questioning people and institutions from our past who did NOT respond well to being challenged or questioned. 

Lots and LOTS of people walk around every day, afraid to challenge what they were taught growing up. 

What Belief Systems— or BS— from the past are you hanging on to? 

What BS from the past is limiting you now? 

What BS from the past is intruding upon your self esteem, your self confidence, or your relationships? 

When we really look at the BS we’re hanging on to from the past, we often realize that the person we learned those beliefs from may not be worth modeling or listening to. 

We learned a lot of BS from a lot of people who weren’t actually all that happy or functional. 

We learned a lot of BS from institutions that had agendas OTHER than our happiness or functionality. 

We learned a lot of BS from the culture around us— and those beliefs may or may not serve us as individuals who may or may not fit in to the culture at large. 

Changing how we feel and function every day means really looking at our beliefs, and reassessing whether they are true and functional. 

Sometimes we’ll buy into beliefs that we might not have any way to KNOW whether they’re true or not— and which definitely do not serve us in feeling good or functioning well. But the belief is familiar, so we don’t challenge it. We assume it must be “right.” 

If we’re going to challenge old Belief Systems, we need to be willing to sit with some anxiety. 

We need to be willing to give up some familiarity. 

We need to be willing to consider what life might look like if we let go of something someone taught us a long time ago, if that belief isn’t working for us. 

Sometimes we hang on to beliefs because we want to hang onto the memory of those people and institutions. 

We think that by letting certain beliefs go, we’re letting them go…and, in a way, we are. 

The thing is, we’re not designed to hang on to certain people and institutions indefinitely. 

We’re designed to outgrow things. To leave certain things in the past. To move past certain attachments and relationships. 

We can have mixed feelings about it. 

But when it comes to the Belief Systems we carry around with us every day, those Belief Systems that determine what we think, feel, and do every day…we need to be super clear on what’s working and what’s not. 

We need to get real about our BS. 

We need to get very aware of our BS. 

We need to be willing to challenge our BS. 

And we need to get crystal clear on new Belief Systems that WILL actually work for us going forward— Belief Systems we choose. 

You are not “choosing” to suffer.

It’s always odd to me when some people suggest that people who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or eating disorders are “choosing” how they think, feel, and function. 

This idea is often thrown around as a way to blame people for their suffering— and also as a way to assure people that there’s a surefire way to avoid that kind of emotional and behavioral suffering, i.e, simply don’t “choose” it. 

I guarantee, nobody who is struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or an eating disorder, is waking up in the morning and cheerfully “choosing” that suffering. 

It’s true that we sometimes make choices that exacerbate our suffering— but if we do, it’s almost always because we don’t see alternatives. 

Nobody WANTS to be depressed. Nobody WANTS to be anxious; to struggle with trauma; to be shackled to an addiction; to have an eating disorder. 

Nobody wakes up in the morning and consciously CHOOSES any of those things, when they feel hey have realistic alternatives. 

I grew up struggling with all of the life-ruining symptomatology presented by undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder— but it never occurred to me that I had a condition that could be identified and treated. 

I just thought I was making choices that made my life difficult. 

In fact, I was TOLD I was just making choices that made my life difficult. 

The thing is, I didn’t WANT to make my life difficult— and I didn’t, for a very long time, understand that I had options. 

Lots and LOTS of people reading this have had the experience of feeling personally blamed for their emotional or behavioral suffering. 

Some people truly think that any kind of emotional or behavioral struggles can be avoided by just making the right choices— and that if someone IS suffering, it’s because they’re somehow not taking responsibility for their emotional and behavioral health. 

Believe me: no one is “choosing” suffering. 

In fact, the vast majority of people who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or eating disorders are actively struggling to feel and do ANYTHING other than those things that are ruining their lives. 

Dedicating our life to recovery is a choice…but it’s a choice we often make out of desperation. 

I didn’t get into recovery because I woke up one day and decided I’d just try it out. 

I got into recovery because I was at the end of my rope. My emotional and behavioral struggles were on the verge of costing me everything I valued in my life— if not my life itself. 

MOST people who get into recovery feel the same way. We WISH we had the luxury of choice. 

But very often, we don’t. 

We don’t get to choose how our brains work. 

We don’t get to choose who our parents are. 

We don’t get to choose the environment in which we grew up. 

We don’t get to choose how the adults around us related or treated us when we were young. 

We don’t get to choose our genetic vulnerabilities to certain disorders or patterns. 

Anyone who thinks that emotional and behavioral struggles are simple matters of “choice”— that we can freely and easily choose among things we experience, think, feel, and do— doesn’t understand how humans work. 

If only it was a simple as “make a different choice!” 

Don’t get sucked into self-blame or shame. 

There are a LOT of factors that go into why we feel and function as we do. 

You just focus on crafting a recovery plan that is realistic and applicable to YOU— and sticking to it one day, one hour, one minute at a time. 

Don’t be “positive.” Don’t be “negative.” Be real.

It’s not “negative” to be real and expressive about how much certain experiences hurt us. 

In fact, being real about our pain can actually be quite positive. 

If we want to move past the pain of our past, we need to acknowledge it. 

If we avoid acknowledging the pain of our past because we don’t want the “negativity,” we’re virtually guaranteeing that our pain will persist. 

Trying to deny and disown something that is obviously affecting us just amplifies its power over us. 

We’re not going to move past our pain with “positive thinking.” 

We ONLY move past pain with REALISTIC thinking. 

We move past pain by being willing to face up to it. By being willing to see it for what it is— no more, but no less. 

You’re going to run into LOTS of people who tell you not to “dwell” on your pain. 

I’m not in favor of “dwelling” on anything— at least, not dwelling on it longer than it needs to be dwelled upon, anyway. 

The truth is, we have to give our pain its due. 

Whether we’re talking about pain from our past, or physical pain, or emotional pain, or pain in our relationships— we have to see it for what it is. 

If we try to deny and disown our pain, it actually GAINS strength. 

There is nothing more crushing than pain we are trying to deny exists. 

When we face our pain, we may not like what we see— but the fact that we’re SEEING it allows us to being forming a realistic plan for DEALING with it. 

What does “dealing with it” look like? 

Part of dealing with pain is seeking out and evaluating ways to lessen that pain. 

Another part of dealing with pain is forming a plan to continue on with the meaningful things in our life— making sure that our pain does not take from us the opportunity to create and live a life that we value. 

There are times when we can meaningfully lessen the amount of pain we’re in…and there are times when we can’t. 

Either way, what we DON’T want is for pain to dominate our ENTIRE mind, take over our ENTIRE life. 

I suppose “positive thinking” is useful— at least, if the alternative is “negative thinking.” 

But I think that’s a false choice. 

I think that we can look for the opportunities in a situation WHILE STILL acknowledging the difficulties of a situation. 

I think we can form a plan to live a meaningful life WHILE STILL being very real about the roadblocks and obstacles we’re facing. 

I think we can find things to enjoy EVEN AS we’re working through a depressive episode. 

I think we can look to the future EVEN AS we process or grief and come to terms with our losses. 

If you’re reading this, you are likely experiencing pain of some sort. And nobody gets to minimize your pain. 

Nobody gets to tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be able to do, with the level of pain that you’re experiencing. 

Don’t get up in your head about anybody else’s expectations— and don’t insist that you stay “positive” no matter what. 

Just be real. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer— be real. 

The real world has more opportunities than a fake “positive” world ever will. I promise. 

Was my past really “that bad?”

There are people reading this who really, really struggle with acknowledging how their past has affected them. 

If that’s you, I don’t blame you. I struggled with the same thing for a long time. 

We all know someone who doesn’t want to admit that their past was sufficiently painful to impact them now, in the present. 

We all know someone who often says some variant of, “I don’t know why I’m so screwed up, I didn’t have it THAT bad.” 

We all know someone who often says some version of, “My parents did the best they could. I don’t want to blame them for how my life has turned out.” 

And we all know someone who says, “I definitely don’t have a trauma history, it’s not like I was ABUSED or anything.” 

A LOT of people get hang up on acknowledging and accepting the pain of their past. 

They truly feel that the pain they experienced in their early relationships “wasn’t enough” to cause them difficulty in later life. 

They truly feel that their current pain somehow isn’t “legitimate” because, whatever they went through, they know or have heard of someone who had it worse. 

Here’s the thing: our nervous system doesn’t care what we think “counts” as abuse or neglect. 

It doesn’t care whether somebody else had it worse. 

All our nervous system knows is what WE went through, and what WE needed to do to survive. 

No matter WHAT it was in our lives that impacted our nervous system, we have to deal with the aftereffects.

Our symptoms and struggles don’t suddenly change or disappear if we today decide that our past wasn’t ‘bad enough” to “screw us up” now. 

No matter WHAT we think of our past, whether we consider it objectively painful or not, it STILL impacted us exactly the way it did. 

We have to deal with that. 

There are people reading this who feel, because they weren’t hit or verbally berated or emotionally manipulated— because they didn’t suffer “abuse” as it’s often defined— that they “shouldn’t” have symptoms and struggles related to their past. 

But that perspective overlooks the often devastating impact neglect and loss can have on our lives— especially if neglect and loss happened to us early and often. 

We really, really need to resist the temptation to categorize our early experiences as “bad enough” or not to produce struggles now. 

If we’re struggling now, we’re struggling. 

Nobody LIKES the fact that they had a painful past. 

Nobody LIKES the fact that they struggle now. 


But we DON’T have to experience shame around the fact that we had pain in our past, and that it impacts us now. Of COURSE it impacts us. 

We also don’t need to experience shame about the impact on us of experiences that SEEM similar to things other people experienced— but to which they responded differently. 

OF COURSE we responded differently. We’re different people. 

Your past, your pain, your challenges, your goals— they are yours. 

The name of the game is accepting that what’s on our plate, is exactly what’s on our plate. 

No mater how much we wish it was different, whether or not it seems to “make sense” given what we remember about what we want through, whether somebody else did or didn’t have it “worse” or “better” than us…we STILL have on our plate, exactly what’s on our plate. 

Focus in on that. 

When your inner critic tries to get you distracted by carping about the “legitimacy” of your pain, redirect your focus back to your goals and recovery plan. 

Second guessing the “legitimacy” of our pain is a dead end. There’s literally no upside. 

Whether or not it “should” have, your past produced exactly your current struggles. 

Start with that fact. 

Saying “no” is not negative. Not even a little.

We very often think that saying “yes,” even when we want to say “no,” is the key to making a relationship good. 

We think that other people will appreciate our self-sacrifice of accommodating them, even when we don’t feel like it. 

We think that people will understand that all we want is for them to be happy and comfortable. 

Often we’ve been told that people with a “good attitude” say “yes” instead of saying “no.” 

Often we’ve been told that saying “no” means we’re being “negative”— and NOBODy wants to be in a relationship with someone who is NEGATIVE, right? 

So we say “yes” when we want to say “no.” Over, and over, and over again. 

It’s true that our lives are full of people who don’t want to her the word “no.” 

But it is NOT true that constantly saying “yes” when we want to say “no” is the pathway to “good” relationships. 

The truth is, when we repeatedly say “yes” when we want to say “no,” our self-esteem pays the price. 

We find ourselves continually forced into situations we didn’t choose, not REALLY— but that we can’t complain about having not chosen, because “technically” we opted in by saying “yes.” 

If we find ourselves again and again in situations we didn’t choose and we don’t want, and unable to safely or realistically opt out, we’re GOING to end up both unmotivated and angry. 

If we feel unable to say “no” when we mean “no,” our life is going to feel uncontrollable and unmanageable. 

It’s hard to convince yourself to get out of bed in the morning when you KNOW you’re headed toward a day in which you have virtually no say in the supposed “choices” in front of you. 

It’s hard to respect and value yourself if you’re not standing up for yourself on a level as basic as, “I don’t want to do that thing, and I don’t have to do that thing.” 

When we’re unable to say “no” directly and unapologetically, our brain and body WILL find ways to say “no” passively and indirectly. 

If we don’t give ourselves a conscious, intentional way to set limits, our nervous system will register its protest basically by shutting down. 

Saying “no” is taking care of ourselves in one of the most fundamental ways possible. 

We are responsible for setting limits that keep us safe and sane. Other people might be able to help and support us in setting limits, but in the end it is our responsibility. 

Saying “no” when we need to say “no” isn’t just good for us— it’s really important to those people with whom we’re in relationships. 

If THEY can’t trust us to say “no” when we mean “no,” then they can’t trust that our “yes” to them is particularly meaningful. 

The people in our lives deserve to know that when we say “yes,” we mean “yes.” 

The only way that realistically happens is if we are able and willing to say “no” when we mean “no.” 

Nobody is saying that saying “no” is easy. It’s not. 

We often think we’ll be in trouble. We think we’ll be abandoned. We think we’ll be attacked. 

And, make no mistake— sometimes those fears are absolutely warranted. The world does NOT like it when we say “no.” 

We have to be willing to risk it— for ourselves AND those we love. 

For our self-esteem, for our goals and dreams, for our stability, for our sanity. 

Saying “no” isn’t “negative.” 

It’s one of the most positive behaviors we can possibly nurture. 

When ya stall out in recovery (not “if;” “when”)…

I don’t think people struggle in their recovery work because they’re being “stubborn.” 

I don’t think people struggle in their recovery work because they are “difficult.” 

I think if someone’s struggling in your recovery from depression, anxiety, trauma, and/or addiction, it’s usually because they’re overwhelmed, exhausted, or confused about what they need to do next. 

Lots of times, we get attitude from other people who see us struggling in our recovery, and who apparently assume that we’re not “trying hard enough.” 

They’ll call us “avoidant”— as if there’s anyone out there who DOESN’T avoid things that are overwhelming or or painful. 

OF COURSE we’re “avoidant” sometimes in recovery. You would be, too, if you really understood what we’re being asked to wrestle with. 

People in recovery are asked to go into battle against some of their scariest personal demons. 

In trauma recovery, we’re often asked to confront feelings and memories that we’ve buried specifically BECAUSE they’re overwhelming. 

In addiction recovery, we’re asked to with with emotional and physical discomfort that is so distressing that we’ve almost destroyed our lives scrambling away from it. 

In recovery from depression and anxiety, we’re asked to reevaluate thought patterns and beliefs that feel INCREDIBLY real and valid to us— a process that can make us feel crazy, stable, or foolish. 

NONE of this work is easy. 

Can you blame ANYONE for being “avoidant” when it comes to emotional and behavioral change? 

If we’re going to successfully do recovery work, we need to continually work developing ways to stick with it EVEN WHEN it gets overwhelming, exhausting, or confusing. 

The vast majority of people I’ve ever guided through their recovery have been extremely eager and motivated to do the work— but they often run into a wall when they get overloaded, tired, or uncertain about what exactly a situation calls for. 

We need to stop seeing our struggles in recovery as a manifestation of willful “resistance.” 

Generally speaking, the most “resistance” we hit in recovery are completely normal. ANY human being would resist pushing forward when they’re overwhelmed, exhausted, or confused. 

All of this goes to how we talk to ourselves, about ourselves. 

How do we talk to ourselves about our recovery efforts? 

Do we extend ourselves the benefit of the doubt, affirming that this is a difficult process that’s asking a lot of us? 

Do we remind ourselves that it’s okay— and unavoidable— to have normal human reactions such as fear, uncertainty, or fatigue? 

Or do we get on board with our critics and bullies, tell ourselves we’re just being difficult, and that we just need to get our sh*t together? 

“Suck it up” isn’t a strategy. 

If we’re stalled out in recovery, we need to get clear on the roadblock and brainstorm strategies and tactics to go around or through that roadblock— not a pep talk about how our attitude sucks. 

People who don’t have to do this “recovery” thing will never understand how hard it is. 

They’ll never understand how much it asks. They’ll never know that, in choosing to be and stay in recovery, you’re doing something that MOST people out there in the world aren’t prepared to do. 

Be real and compassionate with yourself when you stall out in recovery. 

It’s not you. It’s the nature of the process. 

Breathe; blink; and focus on doing the next right thing. 

Creating “home” inside ourselves.

“Home” is a complicated subject for a lot of people. 

I wish it was simple, straightforward. I wish that nobody had mixed feelings or associations with the word “home.” 

But we do. 

In the best of all possible worlds, “home” speaks to a place that is safe. 

A place where we feel wanted. Where we ARE wanted. 

In the best of all possible worlds, “home” speaks to a place where we established a safe “base” from which to explore and experience the world— and to which we can return to rest, recharge, and remember. 

But for many people, it’s more complicated than that. 

For some people, as they were growing up, “home” was a place that was unpredictable. 

We WANT “home” to be a place where we’re able to kind of lower the mask that we were out in public, and be ourselves, let our hair down, let our defenses down. 

But a lot of people weren’t able to do that growing up. 

For a them, “home” was a place where they had to engage different kinds of defenses and wear different kinds of masks, than they did out in the world. 

A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to feel truly safe. 

There are different kinds of safety, and different kinds of danger— both out there in the world, and even back at “home,” for a lot of people. 

When we grow up feeling fundamentally unsafe, we tend to blame ourselves. 

What’s wrong with us, we wonder, that we can’t or don’t feel truly safe? 

After all, we hear other people speak affectionately or nostalgically about “home.” 

What’s wrong with us that we don’t feel that way, we wonder? 

If you grew up feeling that “home” wasn’t a safe place— a place where you felt safe, wanted, understood, supported— it wasn’t your fault. 

It wasn’t on you to make “home” a safe place. You were a kid. 

There are people reading this who really, really want to go “home”— but not to the house or the place where they grew up. 

We want to FIND “home.” 

We want to FIND that place where we DO feel safe, wanted, understood, and supported. 

Even if we kind of doubt it exists— part of us STILL wants to find, and go, “home.” 

As it turns out: a big part of recovery from depression, anxiety, trauma, and/or addiction is creating that sense of “home”— inside us. 

We will try, again and again, to find or create that sense in other people, or places, or institutions, and we may even experience bits and pieces of it here and there…but the truth is, it’s on us to make the inside of our own head and heart that fundamental place of safety for us. 

We need to know, without a doubt, that we are safe inside our own head. 

We need to know, without a doubt, that we are safe with ourselves. 

We need to know, without a doubt, that we can retreat inside our head and heart, and find a landscape that is familiar and non-toxic. 

For some of us, that may be completely unfamiliar territory— and we may have doubts about our ability to create that safety, that “home,” inside of us. 

But that’s the work of recovery. That’s what’s in front of us. Nothing we do in therapy or recovery’s going to matter all that much if we don’t make the inside of our own head a safe place. 

I wish so many of us didn’t have to work so hard to create a whole new meaning for the word “home.” 

I wish “home” was a default place of safety for all of us. 

But this is the hand we’ve been dealt— and all we can do, is what we can do. 

So let’s do that. 

Who am I, without my symptoms?

Part of what made (and makes) recovery complicated for me is that, over time, it seemed I had built almost my entire personality around my symptoms. 

For a long time, my social “persona” revolved around being outgoing and charismatic— but what nobody knew was that I had essentially constructed that persona to compensate for what would otherwise be crippling social anxiety. 

In professional situations, I acquired a reputation as being a nonconformist, kind of a “maverick” who would’t conform to rules or expectations— but what nobody knew was that I’d essentially constructed that professional persona to compensate for anxiety and anger responses that got triggered by authority figures. 

Almost every aspect of my personal and professional life had been not just impacted by, by constructed around, my symptoms of depression, anxiety, and later addiction— all of which had been stoked by my history of abuse and neglect. 

Part of the problem, ironically, was that my elaborately constructed personality and behavioral defenses were kind of working. Working well enough, anyway. 

I was able to pawn off certain self destructive behavior as just me being “intense.” 

I was able to justify isolative behavior— which exacerbated my depression and enabled my addiction— as just me being a “loner.” 

I was able to pawn off my disorganized behavior— which, I know now, was my unmanaged ADHD running the show— as just “Glenn being Glenn, whatcha gonna do?” 

And people bought it. Because what else could they do? 

How were they to know that a lot of my personality and behavioral patterns resulted from me working around nearly debilitating symptoms of depression, anxiety, addiction, and trauma? 

I had a problem that a lot of people have: even though a lot of my personality had been constructed to compensate for my symptoms, I functioned more or less well enough to keep people off my case. 

At least, most of the time. 

Fast forward to finally getting serious about recovery, and I ran into a problem that may be familiar to you: I realized that to really work on eliminating or reducing some of these symptoms, I’d be forced to essentially become a different person. 

That seemed overwhelming. It still does, sometimes. Maybe you can relate. 

After all, who am I, if I don’t have to put on a performance to compensate for my social anxiety? 

Who am I, if I’m not isolating for the purpose of secretly getting high and avoiding meaningful attachments that I’m afraid will tie me down? 

We don’t have to deny how huge the task in front of us is: when we’ve constructed big parts of who we are around our symptoms, healing may ask us to literally become someone else. 

Choosing and creating who we WANT to be— not just who we “have” to be to compensate for our symptoms— is a BIG ask. 

Many of us can’t even imagine what a calm, confident, secure version of us might look like. 

If we can’t even imagine it, how can we possibly become it? 

Make no mistake: a big part of recovery, especially in the beginning, involves experimenting with different ways of being “us” out in the world. 

We may have to make it up as we go along for awhile. 

We’ll definitely have to do certain things that feel unnatural and uncomfortable. 

And we’ll definitely be tempted to just go back to the way things were— being the person who was constructed around our symptoms— just because it’s easier and more familiar. 

Resist that temptation. 

Yes, imagining a calm, confident, secure you is going to feel like a stretch at first. 

Yes, putting words to our thoughts, feelings, and needs, is going to feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first. 

But stick with it. Visualize it. 

Construct the new “you” from the ground up. 

You deserve the opportunity to be more than just a series of reactions and responses to painful symptoms. 

You deserve to be a whole person— not a person constructed to compensate for or hide pain.