Stages of Recovery (Change)

The challenge with significant change is that it is during its most crucial stage that people often bug out.   Of course they do.  The “bad habit” they want to change exists for a reason.  Remove the bad habit and they’re faced with the reason.  If that reason is big enough, or difficult enough, or scary enough, it’s right back to the habit.  It’s just simpler that way; it’s just easier.   That’s why we carry our bad habits around with us, our addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, the Internet.  Unless our circumstances become dire there is no incentive to change.   Twenty years ago I read a book by science-writer John McPhee entitled The Control of Nature.  In that book McPhee outlines the levee system in New Orleans and how, if the circumstances were just right, the entire city would be inundated with water.  This book was written sixteen years before Hurricane Katrina hit and featured experts from the Army Corp of Engineers who knew the potential for destruction.   Humans don’t change unless we have to change.  We’re very utilitarian that way.  The only difference between animals and us in this regard is that we have an observing ego that allows us to witness what we are going through as we are in it.  Either God has a wicked sense of humor or God has endowed us with a unique gift.   I choose to think that God has endowed us with a unique gift.  The trouble is, instead of witnessing what we are going through and making sense out of it our brains often defend against the scarier aspects of our lives by indulging in drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, or the Internet.   Change requires that we look at what we are going through.  Change requires that we make sense out of it.  And this brings me back to the point I made earlier regarding the most crucial stage of change and why people bug out when they reach it.   The Matrix Institute is a Los Angeles-based drug and alcohol treatment program endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Its program is centered on helping addicted clients work through five major stages of recovery:   1)   Withdrawal Stage (Day 1 – Day 15) 2)   Honeymoon Stage (Day 15 – Day 45) 3)   The Wall (Day 45 – Day 120) 4)   Adjustment Stage (Day 120 – Day 180) 5)   Resolution Stage (Day 180 – 1 year or more)   In reading this post you may be thinking, “Sure, I have a ‘bad habit’ but I’m not a drug addict or alcoholic.”  Call it what you will, but if you can’t shake a...

Read More

Change, Part II

I wrote the post Change, Part I because I knew it needed to be written.  I knew it needed to be written because after years of working with individuals who were trying desperately to break free of their bad habits it was important to sketch out the essence of what they were going through.  With knowledge comes power – power to experience our situation for what it is, power to make choices that confirm our goodness.   My hope now is that it made sense.  Not just logical sense but emotional sense, intuitive sense, the sense that you can feel and claim, sense that you can apply to your life in real ways.   While I was writing that post I couldn’t help but reflect on Allen, a client I had been seeing not too long ago.  For many reasons his experience seemed like the perfect corollary to that post.  Of course, any life could be a good corollary, including my own, but his seemed particularly piquant because, at middle-age, it was striking how much he continued to struggle to rid himself of “bad habits” and, more importantly, live a life of his own.   Allen was raised in a very religious community on the East Coast.  He was one of the oldest of seven siblings.  Living in a two-bedroom home there was always commotion and turmoil.  One of his earliest memories was his mother admonishing him for being too inquisitive and difficult.  To bring this message home she physically beat him.   Like all children brought into this world, Allen wanted to feel included.  He wanted to express his unique gifts of curiosity, energy, and friendship and have the expression of those gifts be mirrored.  Unfortunately, whenever those gifts were expressed in ways that affected the stability of his family or school life he was abused to ensure that he remained not only within the boundaries of what his parents expected or needed from him but also within the boundaries of what his school and religious community expected or needed from him.   Throughout his childhood, Allen kept himself in lockstep with his family and community whether he agreed with everything they did or not.  He learned at a young age that in order to receive that precious and vital experience of love and inclusion he was required to bend to the will of his mother, his school, his religious community, and even his friends; in fact, he was sexually abused by a friend.  Bending to their will, or giving and giving and giving in the expectation of receiving was the compromise solution that allowed Allen not only to feel included, but most importantly to feel as if...

Read More

Change, Part I

Throughout the years I have heard many stories and read countless emails from men, and some women, who have talked about wanting to change.  They have made commitments to live life differently, mostly with their sexual behavior, whether it was to stop using pornography, having anonymous sex, or masturbating.   For whatever reason – and there have been many reasons – they have not been happy with their behavior.  They’ve felt shame around it, it has interfered with other aspects of their lives, or it has simply left them feeling empty.   These men and women have made commitments that have ranged from at least putting their behavior into perspective – so as to feel less guilt about it – to at most stopping the behavior altogether.  Regardless of the nature of the commitments it has all come back to the same thing…change.   And many of these men or women who have sought change have come up short.  Not once.  Not twice.  But numerous times.   They’ve made the verbal commitments to change.   They’ve set sobriety dates.  They’ve removed all sources of their “drug of choice” from their environment including destroying their computers.  They’ve attended recovery groups and read the best books on the subject.  But then, when they were least expecting it, they felt the undertow of their behavior sucking them back in to old patterns.   Why, then, is it so difficult to change?   I love this question.  I love it because there are so many things that we talk about as human beings, so many things that we get distracted by, but in the end it all comes down to this one thing…why can’t we live the life we would like to live?  Why can’t we change if that’s what we really want?   Whether or not you are a Christian it is difficult not to see ourselves in the Apostle Paul’s so very human assertion, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).  If I were to translate this translation it would come out to be, “Why, then, is it so difficult to change?”   I am old enough to know that there are no easy answers to anything.  But I’m also young enough to risk offering an easy answer.  After all, if we don’t take risks we never accomplish much.  More importantly, if we don’t take risks we never change.   My answer to the question, “Why, then, is it so difficult to change?” is in line with Paul’s answer but I come at it from a 21st Century perspective.   It is so difficult...

Read More