Category Archives: addiction

I’m Just Being Optimistic

force-mutiplier

I was in a checkout line at a department store behind a woman who had a basket full of clothes and other items. After the clerk rang up the purchases, the woman presented a credit card. Denied! She pulled out a second and then a third card. Both denied. Then she asked the clerk to try the first card again. Was this woman being optimistic?

No, she was in denial of reality and didn’t want to accept it.

I wonder how many times a day this same scenario is repeated? Maybe you have even been there. Or perhaps the issue isn’t financial, but some other refusal to accept the truth that is right before your eyes.

For an addict, breaking denial is the first step towards recovery. This is not news – we all know this. But there are other perhaps more subtle ways in which we deceive ourselves.

  • We keep applying for jobs we are not qualified for hoping someone will hire us anyway.
  • We abuse our automobiles or our bodies and hope they will last forever.
  • We stay in an abusive or violent relationship hoping that this will be the time his sincere apology will really mean a change. (Good luck with that one!)
  • We ignore deadlines and trust that somehow there is a way around the penalties.
  • We hide bills from our spouse and believe everything will turn out OK in the end.

I love optimism. It is a predictor of success in many areas of life. Optimists tend to draw people towards themselves that want to help them reach their goals. (People tend to shy away from perpetual pessimists.) But optimists do not operate outside of reality.

Optimists will:

  • Keep applying for jobs that they are qualified for knowing that one will come through eventually. Or they train for the job they really want.
  • Maintain their health and possessions knowing that it will make a difference in the long run.
  • Leave a bad relationship knowing that a better one is bound to come along.
  • Embrace deadlines as a challenge to get things done and feel satisfied.
  • Share the hard things with their spouse, like bills, and believe that together they will make necessary changes and work things out.

A true optimist sees life with a hopeful perspective. But they do not live with unrealistic expectations. Denial is not their friend, but an obstacle to avoid.

Being in denial of our own mortality is the easiest and most dangerous position of all. However, the reality of the hope we have in Christ Jesus gives us the ultimate reason to be optimistic. If you want to know more about this hope, check out the messages at cachurch.com.

You Know What To Do

I’ve been pondering a maxim that I read in a fiction novel this week (yes, I read fiction, too). The wise teacher was instructing his students on a life principle. 

“You know what to do. You just don’t want to do it.”
 
I think this describes a lot of people that come in for counseling. Perhaps they are hoping that there is an alternative to facing the hard stuff. Or they need someone with an authoritative voice to help them face the truth. Or they are hoping that the counselor will confront their partner instead of having to do it themselves.  
 
Yes, it is true that sometimes people need help breaking denial. They may have a big old blind spot that needs to be exposed. This is especially true for people with a more serious disorder. But for many this is not the case. It is simply that the needed change is painful, complicated, or difficult.
 
I see two main areas that are pretty common.
 
Moral
  • I need to stop drinking.
  • I need to let go of an affair or other sexual behavior outside of marriage.
  • I have to deal with my anger
  • I have a problem with lying.
  • I have a spending or other addiction.
 
Practical
  • I need to move out of my parent’s house
  • I need to let go of a relationship that is destructive.
  • I need to find a job or look for another job.
  • I need to move forward with a marriage commitment
  • I need to get my finances in order, but it means having to reduce my lifestyle
 
Both of those lists could get much longer. And let me say, it takes courage to do those things. Being coached through them often makes the process easier, or at least more doable. That is one reason why we love the AA method of using sponsors. Sponsors are able to strengthen and encourage us when we are weak. They are a gift.
 
I remember times in my life where I have had to face both moral and practical issues. They really are not fun. Deciding to allocate money to a retirement account meant reducing my available spending money. Admitting I was a people pleaser and needed to set appropriate boundaries was, and still is painful for me. Even before I entered counseling I knew many of the things that needed changing – but I needed help doing them.  My pride, my fear, and my family issues got in the way.
 
God tells us that He is available to be a 24/7 resource. His word stands as a promise to us. We can always reach out to Him when we are weak.
 
Psalm 46:1 
God is our refuge and our strength:
An ever present help in times of trouble.
 

Hard and Soft Boundaries

 
 
I heard a true story of a rural elementary school that was built on a large piece of real estate. When it was built there was no need to fence it in because there were no safety dangers. The teachers on yard duty just had to keep an eye on the group as they played during recess. As time went on, the adjacent area grew busier and the rural streets were paved and car traffic came closer to the school. The teachers had to set an imaginary boundary for the kids quite a distance from the street for safety. But now the kids’ play area was greatly curtailed. The balls would often roll into the “forbidden zone”, but the kids couldn’t fetch them without adult assistance.
 
Eventually a high fence was constructed around the play area close to the street that included the formerly off-limits part. The kids could once again use the entire playground because it was safe. Where the imaginary line had been mostly adequate, it had still carried some limitations and risk.
 
This is a great example of soft vs. hard boundaries.
 
Whether hard or soft, they are both designed to protect. In relationships they either protect us or others, or both. In abusive relationships, hard boundaries are usually set (“Do that one more time and I leave.”) A soft boundary I might set is to avoid talking about a particular subject (like politics) with certain people. I do not want to cut off the relationship, but I do want to avoid the danger zone.
 
Another soft boundary might be with time issues. With someone who is constantly late, I might be flexible to a certain degree – but when they are excessively late I may confront them or cancel an appointment or date. In this case I extend some grace but protect them from my anger or resentment when they push my limit.
 
When interventions are done with addicts, the family and friends always set a “bottom line”. This is a classic hard boundary – and it is absolutely necessary. It is usually very difficult for the family, but love for the addict compels them to suffer the pain of setting and following through no matter what. But if they waffle on the hard boundary in any way the intervention will be a failure. Softer boundaries can be set when the addict completes treatment.
 
I hate to set boundaries. I don’t like conflict. I hate for people to be displeased with me. But when we set boundaries, people will be angry or disappointed with us. It is unavoidable. I have had family members voice this to me directly. But I am willing to endure the discomfort in favor of emotional health.
 
Sometimes we set hard boundaries because we are unwilling to navigate the uncertain waters of softer ones. This is a mistake because it often wrecks or ends relationships. We have to be very careful not to set limits with anger or hostility. The goal is not to punish, but protect.
 
How about you? Do you struggle with this issue? Do you have a hard time settings limits, perhaps because of codependency? Are you harsh in the way you handle disappointments with people? Are you in denial about the need for certain limits in your life? Are you suffering because you are afraid to make a healthy choice, even when you know it must be done?
 
Those who are in abusive relationships often struggle the most with this issue. If this is you, get some help. Strengthen yourself by enlisting a support team and experiencing the kind of freedom that God would want for you. You might start by reading the book “Boundaries” by Cloud & Townsend.