Archive for December, 2015

Christmas ReflectionChristmas is a time of great blessings – a time when God’s abundant goodness is poured out on his people as they celebrate the coming of the promised Messiah in the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Each year during the Christmas season we have a unique opportunity to allow God to open our hearts and fill them with his healing grace. Often we think of Christmas as being one special day of the year when we receive material gifts from those we love. Christmas is far more than that. Christmas, in fact, lasts for 12 days, providing an opportunity to receive God’s blessings throughout this season of peace, hope, joy, and love. Take these next 12 days and reflect on the blessings you might be given by God this year. God is always aware of our needs. He is ready and willing to help. Are you open to his grace?

Let’s reflect on some of the many blessings God may bestow on us this year. This may be the year in which you receive a special blessing that could change your life forever.

  • The gift of Faith. Perhaps you live with fear, worry, and doubt. This may be the year you learn to depend on God through the blessing of faith.
  • The gift of Hope. Perhaps you struggle with depression and despair. This Christmas season may instill in you a glimmer of hope that lasts throughout the coming year. This Christmas may help you realize that you are forgiven by God and you have the hope of eternal life with him in heaven.
  • The gift of Charity. You may be filled with criticism and judgment or bitterness and resentment. God’s Christmas blessing may fill you with forgiveness and love.
  • The gift of Light. Your addiction may have caused you to journey into the darkness – a darkness from which you could not escape. Perhaps the Light of the Christmas season will restore the light that dwells inside you and surrounds you.
  • The gift of Courage. The journey of recovery involves hard work. It requires patience and perseverance. You need diligence to combat the sin of sloth and stay strong in your recovery. Perhaps this is your Christmas gift this year.
  • The gift of Prudence. This moral virtue helps you discern the truth and make good choices. It keeps you attuned to temperance and helps you say “no” to temptation. This may be the grace that fortifies your recovery this year.
  • The gift of Wonder and Awe. Perhaps you are too serious and you have forgotten the wonder and awe you had as a child. This Christmas could restore those child-like graces and change your whole perspective on life.
  • The gift of Gratitude and Appreciation. Perhaps you have grown distant and cold and your heart is far from God. God’s Christmas blessing can fill your heart with warmth and understanding. It can provide kindness and compassion. It can help you open your heart and learn to trust again.
  • The gift of Comfort and Consolation. Perhaps you have suffered a great deal and you feel sadness and oppression or abandonment and rejection. God’s grace may give you the courage to turn to him for comfort in your time of need. That comfort may provide the consolation that will make you strong in your faith and engaged in your recovery.
  • The gift of Purpose. Perhaps you have lost your way or you have never really found a purpose for your life. Your Christmas blessing may include a deep commitment to building your relationship with God, and the outgrowth of that bonding may inspire you with an understanding of how you are called to serve God and his people.
  • The gift of Joy. Perhaps you have allowed someone or something to steal your joy. During this season of joy you may have the insight and the courage to reclaim that joy and protect it as a great blessing in your life.
  • The gift of Peace. Perhaps you have allowed your own thoughts and feelings to disturb your peace. Perhaps others have interfered with your ability to find and claim peace. This may be the year in which God grants you peace in abundance, restoring you and your relationships with Him and others.

Which of these Christmas blessings does God have ready to bestow on you this year? Which one do you want to ask him to give you to help fortify your wellbeing and make you stronger in your recovery? Remember there are 12 days of Christmas. Open your heart and count your blessings as you reinforce your relationship with God through this special time of the year.

reasoning mind 2Note: Part one of this Components of True Self series: Feelings
was posted here

The second component of our True Self is our reasoning mind—what we might call our intellect or our logic. Our reasoning mind analyzes, deduces, observes, understands, plans, and concentrates. It is conscious, active, and often creative. It looks at evidence and makes judgments based on what it sees. The reasoning mind is a neutral force, but it can be used enhance intimacy or to sabotage it.

The reasoning mind can enhance intimacy by:

  • Staying in the present moment rather than thinking about past or future
  • Properly discerning emotional cues from self and others
  • Thinking in positive, realistic ways
  • Understanding and accepting the thoughts and ways of others, allowing differences to occur without experiencing distress
  • Gathering and analyzing information to better understand yourself and your relationships
  • Updating your beliefs based on new knowledge and experience, leading you to develop improved methods of cultivating intimacy
  • Helping you manage life circumstances
  • Tempering emotional overreaction

The reasoning mind can impair intimacy by:

  • Using negative thinking or negative self-talk (listing reasons why you are such a failure, for example)
  • Creating stories/reasons that sustain negative emotions
  • Valuing logic above all else
  • Engaging in destructive patterns like rationalization, suspicion, minimizing, or judging
  • Having a lack of mental discipline that may result in poor concentration, distraction, or inability to initiate or follow through

The reasoning mind works closely with our feelings. In fact, it is often difficult to distinguish feeling from thought or to know which comes first. We often use our thoughts to perpetuate a negative emotion, to build a story around it to justify or sustain it. When we use our reasoning mind to foster unhealthy emotions, we are separating ourselves from others and making intimacy difficult to achieve.

How do we control our thoughts? The key, perhaps, is not to use the word “control.” Instead, use the words “allow” and “observe.” If we find that we are stuck in a negative thought cycle, which in turn is activating our fearful, angry, or anxious emotions, it’s time to take a deep breath, focus on the moment, and practice observing what our mind is doing rather than investing in it.

The following four steps may help you release a dark thought pattern and generate a better one to replace it.

  • Step 1: Accept the negative thoughts. Don’t panic.
  • Step 2: Forgive yourself for having negative thoughts. Allow and observe them.
  • Step 3: Ask for help. Send up a silent prayer for release from the thoughts.
  • Step 4: Express your willingness to change your thoughts. Something as simple as, “I am willing to think differently about this” can bring about incredible change.

The Long Road

Recovery requires hard work and tough choices.

To truly recover from addiction is a process, one that requires deeper and more lasting changes than simply acknowledging the errors of a life controlled by alcohol or drugs.  The process of real recovery involves more than an apology for hurtful behaviors and faulty judgment, more than a moment or a day of clarity, and more than a cry for help, no matter how sincere.  Recovery is a long journey that requires profound and difficult changes, changes both in how the brain works and in how a person responds to life’s events.

Addiction re-programs the brain in ways that make harmful choices seem like appropriate responses to day-to-day experiences.  For a person living with addiction, drug use is neurologically connected to escape, relaxation, and reward; at an unconscious level, part of the brain has learned to define “using” as a valid reaction to challenges.

The ongoing work of recovery is a process of re-training that takes time, practice, and discipline.  Consider similar processes that we experience as we grow up: whether we are learning to ride a bicycle, to swim, or to multiply and divide, we spend time repeating the tasks involved over and over until they become second nature.  Once learned, these skills are hard to forget–years can go by without riding a bicycle, and yet we relearn to ride within a few minutes.  Lessons that are well-established in our memory can be easily recalled.

Now, consider addiction.  Over time, an individual has repeatedly used drugs or alcohol to respond to stress, anger, frustration, boredom, pain, trauma, and many other emotions.  The brain has become programmed, and the individual has developed patterns that encompass addicted behavior.  Knowing what we know about how easily well-learned lessons are recalled, how can we possibly expect change overnight, or in thirty days, or in even a year?  And yet, more than 50% of the people who enter into treatment for addiction have no aftercare.  They have no framework within which to keep their recovery moving forward, and are often unable to continue the serious work of learning to live differently.  It should come as no surprise that relapse rates are high for these individuals.

We hear stories of people who suffer severe physical injuries and we admire their tenacity in regaining the use of their arms and legs.  We know that this type of rehabilitation can take months, or even years. Yet all too often we assume that rehabilitation of the brain can happen in an instant.  We assume that a moment of clear thinking indicates total recovery.  What we forget is that the addicted person’s brain, just like the muscles of a soldier recovering from a battlefield injury, must learn new patterns and new ways to respond.

During the process of recovery, the addicted person must learn to think and respond in intensely different ways; when the brain says, “Go right,” the person must force themselves to go left.  When the voice of their disease is triggered and cries out for alcohol or drugs, when well-worn pathways present themselves, the mind must be led in a new direction.  Finding better responses and more appropriate solutions takes time, retraining, and sustained effort.

Many people struggle to acknowledge the time and practice required for true recovery to take place.  But it is vitally important that those who live with addiction, as well as their families, spouses, and friends, understand just how unrealistic is the notion of the shortcut or the quick fix.  Seeking a quick cure, one is unable to truly walk on the road of recovery.  Addiction is a deadly disease, and the solutions that lead away from its destructive power all require hard work.  It is only when we embrace the reality of recovery’s continuous journey that lasting results will be realized.