Building Healthier Boundaries in Sobriety

Walls? Nope. Just well-defined paths and gates.

If you’re like me, the gap between healthy boundaries and unhealthy boundaries isn’t at all difficult to measure. Unhealthy boundaries generally equates with no boundaries. And, well, healthy boundaries are for the other idiots who don’t realize that you don’t need boundaries!

Except you do.

Not only do you need them, but to deny that you need them is as equally dangerous as it is intellectually dishonest. Denying your need for boundaries is to deny the immutable law of gravity. Kind of like this . . .

“Hey, why don’t you jump off this skyscraper?”

“Good idea! I love that feeling of falling. Don’t you?”

“No.”

“Well I do. Here goes. Wheee!”

Splat.

Defining healthy personal boundaries is the way, metaphorically speaking, not to go splat. Personal boundaries allow you to respect yourself and to voice to others that you alone can define who you are—others don’t.

What’s more, setting healthy boundaries goes hand in hand with not just attaining sobriety, but also with the daily maintenance of self-respect and self-understanding. Translate: you’ll stay sober longer and with more fulfillment if you learn to preserve your integrity. Beyond that, you’ll see that life itself is more fulfilling. Lastly, establishing boundaries doesn’t necessarily mean putting up walls to the rest of the world—it just means that you respect yourself enough to know that relationships and life’s priorities don’t dictate your identity.

Remind me what healthy boundaries are.

It’s pretty easy to see what unhealthy boundaries look like. Have you ever seen these signs?

  • Going against personal values to please others

  • Allowing others define you

  • Feeling bad or guilty when you say no and going the distance to make sure everyone knows you’re one who says yes

  • Not speaking up when you’re abused, verbally, emotionally, or sexually

  • Giving as much as you can so that others like you

  • Falling “in love” with someone you barely know or who reaches out to you

  • Letting people make advances that you actually don’t feel comfortable with

  • Calling someone you just met to dump your life on them

Healthy boundaries, in comparison, often at first look like walls. You don’t really want to say no to this person, because, they’re really nice and you want to be liked. Setting a appropriate personal boundary feels like it’s blocking this person out and you’re just being a jerk.

But that’s not actually the case at all. You not only have the right to establish appropriate boundaries, you also truly owe it to yourself to define a path to self-respect. Healthy boundaries aren’t like walls. Instead, they’re a well-paved road to maintain your sanity, your sense of self-identity, and most importantly, your sobriety.

Here’s the short list of healthy personal boundaries.

  • Touch that feels uncomfortable, probably is. And you feel that way because someone crossed a line. It’s on them, not you, to respect yourself.

  • It’s on you to say, “Hey. That’s not okay.”

  • Saying no to requests that you know will take up your time and energy.

  • Saying yes to keeping your appointments that you know will keep you sober and focused.

  • Speaking up when someone has hurt you—not so that you can browbeat them, but so they know what they did crossed a line.

And so I need them . . . why?

Often people struggling with addiction find that having no boundaries is the norm. It’s one of the reasons we started abusing drugs or alcohol in the first place. Our sense of self-worth has been distorted and an appropriate sense of perspective has fallen out of whack. What’s devious about addictive drugs is that they seem to bring life into focus and we feel like we’ve got everything together, when actually, we’re letting an artificial chemical define who we are.

Amazingly, we often let other people define us, too. This happens often, and manifests itself in unhealthy addict-like behaviors.

If you’re just beginning to find the golden path to real recovery, you need to understand that boundaries are there to keep you alive. It’s just like when you were a kid, your mom told you not to touch a hot stove. It wasn’t because she was mean; she didn’t want you to hurt yourself.

The problem with addicts is that when addictive chemicals hijack a brain, their sense of what’s okay and what’s not goes out the window. Part of learning to stay sober is learning that, in other parts of your life, you have established what’s okay and what isn’t.

Trusting and believing in the power of  “no”.

This last point maybe is the toughest for people who are like me. I’m a people-pleaser. I honestly believe that I got this way because I wanted to please my parents. I don’t blame them at all. It just is.

But part of the problem of continually saying yes to everyone is letting them define you and say who you are. But they don’t get to do that!

The only person who can say who you are is you. Period. You may find it helpful to submit to a higher authority, whether that be God, or a healthy life path. Realize though that anyone who tries to you to fit into a box you don’t want to fit into isn’t an authority worth keeping in the first place.

How to Get Addiction Help When Responsibilities Govern Your World

Little kids? Important job? Do others depend on you? Getting sober just feels like it can wait until life is calmer. It can’t. Here’s the answer you’ve been looking for.

The water started boiling over from the pot to the stovetop. Then, the kids began wailing from the other room. Top it all off with several upcoming assignment deadlines at work and the beads of sweat accumulating on your forehead pair well with the impending doom gurgling inside your chest like red-hot molten magma spewing from Mount Tohellwithitall.

Beyond the stress there’s two undeniable facts staring you down:

  1. People need you! They can’t live without the daily attention only you can give them, and;

  2. You are, without a doubt, hopelessly and unambiguously addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

“I’m indispensable” is easily in the top three reasons why people put off getting sober. Ironically, as the illness progresses, addiction keeps taking away from not only your capability as a parent/worker/spouse but it also adds to the stress itself.

And so the insane whirly octopus at the county fair keeps on spinning. And life, like a nauseous teenage riding in a car on the aforementioned carnival ride, keeps hurling puke into your face like a trebuchet launching wet, stinky missiles.

If you have small kids, the perception of your indispensability is magnified, and probably rightfully so.

How to get sober? What brings it all down and how does the world survive while you try to get healthy? Here are four loud rings tolling from the bell tower of truth.

You’re not as indispensable as you think you are.

It’s amazing, I know. But the world indeed does go on without you. Just fine, in fact. Don’t get me wrong—I know that people have responsibilities and others depend on you. I also know that whatever doesn’t get done while you’re getting your health in order will somehow manage to be completed . . . or, at a bare minimum, it’ll be put on hold.

When I was trying to get sober, I threw much of the responsibility for our two growing boys into the lap of my wife. I was lucky that she understood that addiction is an induced mental illness. Like any other illness, it takes time and effort to get well and function again. Eventually, I was able to downshift and gradually build up speed to be the husband/father/employable-person I was meant to be.

Help is a gift others want to give!

I think we fail to grasp how much others want to lend a hand to people when life gets bumpy. Sure, you might feel guilty that you’re throwing all the responsibility to someone else while it seems like you’re just contemplating your navel. You need to understand that while you were using, you were handing off responsibility anyway; you simply didn’t realize how complicated and insanely byzantine everyday life had become by your drug and/or alcohol abuse.

People want to help, and they want to help you. Why? Because they knew you once as a responsible and thoughtful human being. They no longer see that because the chemicals have hijacked your brain.

Don’t worry—the dog will get fed and the kids will get to school. You need only ask, because others want to help.

You’re not doing anybody any favors by staying drunk or high.

This. Just this. I don’t need to actually write anything in this paragraph, because as anyone who has experienced a loved one’s addiction will know, you’re not a functioning person when you use.

You might think you are, but—believe me—you’re not.

You have more options than ever before to make it all work.

Without sounding like a blatant advertisement for addiction treatment, it’s really the truth—with today’s technology and medical expertise, the options for effective treatment for addiction have expanded significantly from what they were ten or twenty years ago. Especially if you are a parent or you need to keep tabs on your work, today’s options make finding sobriety easier than ever.

The responsibility you have for your health always outweigh the perceived responsibility you have for others. Why? Because without your health, you’re heading down a dangerous path where you might not be there at all.

How would your responsibilities look if that were to happen?

 

Staying on the Successful Path to Recovery through Financial Difficulties

Money, money, money. It doesn’t need to sabotage the recovery plan.

It pissed me off. It really did.

I was deep into my second week of inpatient addiction treatment. One guy who I’d gotten to know and care about as a fellow compatriot in recovery, and who began treatment on the same day I had, told me that he’d be leaving the center in the morning after having been there just four days.

It turns out his health insurance company wasn’t going to cover him anymore. To make matters worse, the mountain of debt he had accumulated became the perfect rationale to keep drinking and kicking the can of responsibility into the next day, the next week, the next month.

The next day he was gone. I promised to text him and stay in touch to make sure he was okay. I did, too, but he never replied. I never knew what happened to him for the next two years.

“When it comes to addiction, there are a million reasons to just keep doing what you’ve always been doing.”

Then one day I attended a meeting where I saw another “classmate” who had gone through the same treatment center, two years’ prior. I asked that one how he was doing and we got to talking about the other guys.

“Yeah. I relapsed after nine months. Brian was there, too,” he said.

“Really? How was he doing?” I asked, wondering what had become of him.

“His insurance company canned him again and last I heard he killed himself.”

It’s a story sadly too often reported. Not only are people not receiving the help they desperately need, but they also find that the financial burden pinches them so hard, that they cannot see past the heaping piles of IOUs.

The topic of financial burdens and its turbulent relationship with getting sober is a prime one, but I want you to know that the problem is not just manageable, but can also become a benefit to learning how to live again. Here’s how.

Debt is just another problem. The number one problem lies elsewhere.

When it comes to addiction, there are a million reasons to just keep doing what you’ve always been doing. Personally, I would drink when I was happy, sad, miserable and “celebrating.” It didn’t matter. There was always a reason to drink.

And when I’d score some painkillers, that was even better. Or so I thought.

In my first go-around with trying to get sober, I tallied up just how much I’d spent to celebrate or to wash my tears away. The total was close to six figures.

Finally when I wanted to get sober, when I desperately needed to make it work, I heard how much treatment was going to cost me. Luckily, my insurance company wasn’t as backward or bone-headed as my friend’s, but I still needed to pay some of the expenses. The amazing thing is I bemoaned and worried that I would be all be able to make it work.

“Here’s the thing: when you deal with the number one problem, your addiction, the other problems do manage to suddenly shrink in their importance. ”

I thought, maybe I can do this on my own, without any help.

Yeah, right. I’d been down that path before.

The undeniable fact is that financial burden is simply another problem among life’s many problems. But problems are just that—problems. And problems have solutions. The biggest problem is that I got to the point where I couldn’t function without a pill or a drink, which of course only added to the problem of additional debt to feed my addiction.

Here’s the thing: when you deal with the number one problem, your addiction, the other problems do manage to suddenly shrink in their importance. It’s not as if the anxiety goes away when you’re sober. No—in some ways the anxiety is worse. However, with your life free from the addictive, chemical death-grip, you’ll find that a financial burden is just that—a burden that isn’t as infinitely-reaching and all-encompassing as you think.

Debt is manageable, and more. Owing money can actually be a gift.

Two points I want to raise:

Financial responsibilities are never insurmountable.

Debt can actually be a gift from which to achieve an attainable goal. It can actually help you in your sobriety!

Like I stated above, debt is just debt. It isn’t a demonic, pitchfork-bearing fiend about to stab you in the throat. With financial management and good planning, you can sit down on paper and see how to reduce or even eliminate it. What’s more, you don’t have to go this route alone. Options for debt management have exploded in the past decade, and all you need to do to look at them is to google it.

“Out of all the topics I’ve written concerning recovery, probably the most important is finding a sense of meaning and purpose to your help.”

However, the second point I raised is perhaps the more unintuitive one. After you begin your path to sobriety, you start to notice that things that demand your attention and planning can actually make you feel better about yourself and assist you in getting through the day.

Out of all the topics I’ve written concerning recovery, probably the most important is finding a sense of meaning and purpose to your help. I’m not saying that paying off your debt has to be the end-all, be-all to your life, but let’s face it—consistently paying down, month after month, is not only attainable, but measurable. You can actually add up how much smaller your monthly financial obligations have shrunk.

Knowing that you have an attainable goal and that today all you need to do is stay sober will keep you on the right path to long-term recovery from addiction. Yeah . . . debt can be a gift!

 

Why We Need Purpose & Meaning to Continue Successfully in Recovery

“Getting Sober” is One Thing — Sustaining It For the Long Term is Another.

After one particular nasty benzo binge over spring break in Florida with my family, I distinctly remember stating something rather depressing to my wife.

“I don’t have any dreams anymore.”

Depressing? Definitely. Disturbing? You bet.

We had been discussing our plans for the future and she wanted to know what dreams and aspirations I had. Today I believe her goal was to get me thinking beyond the fetid swamp of doom I had placed myself in. What she couldn’t have understood at that time is that, without outside help with my drug addiction, there was no way I could begin to speculate about a future together, much less for myself.

Fortunately for me, I eventually found the help I desperately needed. I had placed myself in a dire enough situation that I was finally willing to admit I had a problem.

The first weeks, like many experience during their inpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, were fairly miserable. I couldn’t sleep, I hated listening to the other men in recovery relate their sob stories, and (above all) I despised the situation I had put myself in. With previous treatments, I simply wanted to know how to secretly use again without it destroying my life. That last time around—nearly nine years ago—I really wanted to get sober, but I just felt so miserable.

Time passed. The last week came at treatment. I began to feel better. And I could finally see a light at the end of a tunnel. With that light, came planning for the future. And planning sober.

“What I eventually found is that developing healthy dreams and aspirations was vital not only to getting sober, but also sustaining that sobriety.”

Thing was . . . I couldn’t see a way forward. I wanted to find my purpose and develop a meaning to my new life in recovery. I realize now how little I understood the importance of finding that meaning had been. I also am grateful that I finally found it. Without purpose & meaning, I don’t believe people dealing with substance-use disorder can develop a healthy sense of living without a chemical crutch.

Here’s why.

Meaning. Purpose. Meh.

It’s easy within a culture of consumerism and self-improvement to fall into the trap of hedonism and material acquisition. Many find that, in the absence of finding their purpose and meaning, that they instead substitute the ambition to get the new car/job/house/ideal girlfriend (yes, men especially treat relationships as “acquisitions”) or whatever other novel possession or perceived level of power.

I know that’s where I was.

At first, I wanted all those good things. I wanted all those new and shiny things. Pretty soon though, all I wanted to do when I woke up in the morning was to get high or drunk and try to control the feelings of worthlessness or simple boredom I perceived.

That behavior of chasing the sustained high soon took over. The addictive, syrupy cocktail I daily guzzled—everything from booze to opiates—became the sole reason for getting up in the morning. And once the chase became everything, then the game was over. Meaning was lost. Purpose? Vaporized in a hazy cloud of artificial bliss.

“I don’t want to use, because I don’t want to lose the meaning and direction I’ve found. ”

Meaning? Purpose? Yeah!

Human beings require the continual pursuit and intentional cultivation to find meaning to their lives, and they need to discover and work hard to see purpose in their existence. It’s well documented that social adaptability and a fit, purpose-driven life is a major building block on the foundation upon which you build your daily existence.

There are many reasons why people abuse alcohol and drugs. For me, basically, I just wanted to get off. Like, all the time. Raw hedonism feels really fun in the moment. The problem, though, is that the sustainability of this attitude is dubious at best, and downright destructive at worst.

Soon, I was trapped. But a solution came in an unforeseen direction.

What I eventually found is that developing healthy dreams and aspirations was vital not only to getting sober, but also sustaining that sobriety. Above all, serving others through the work I do and the recreation I engage in with my family and friends, sets the integral groundwork for everything else.

The long and short of it is that getting sober is one thing, but sustaining a recovery for the long term is another. Purpose and meaning to my life gives me a new challenge to wake up to. I don’t want to use, because I don’t want to lose the meaning and direction I’ve found. What’s more, an effective, medically-consistent recovery takes both effort and empathy. Many outlets are at our disposal to learn how to live sober. It’s time we use them, and use them with a self-directed meaning and definitive purpose, as well as a dose of reality and a pinch of wisdom from experts who have been there.

Talking With Your Kids About Your Past Usage

Uncomfortable? Maybe a little. Necessary? Depends.

If you’re like most addicts and alcoholics, you’ve gathered a collection of embarrassing, wild, funny, sad, and/or other jaw-dropping, crazy things you did while under the influence. Lots of us wear those experiences like big, fat, red badges of pride. And although sharing these experiences is generally frowned-upon in a therapy or group sessions as being “drunk-a-logs,” no one in my experience can help but smile a little bit from the debauchery we tussled with in the past.

Like, once I drove an ambulance drunk. Yeah, really.

Of course, when you seriously reflect on your past life, you begin to realize both the gravity and danger you put yourself and others in. It’s important not to forget the dumb things you did, because I assume you don’t want to repeat them. At the same time, it’s also vital you don’t dwell too long in the past either—both from the perspective of holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-I-did-that to wallowing in pitiful sorrow for the past mistakes you made.

The past is the past. You aren’t that person anymore now that you’re in recovery.

As parents, I believe there is added levels of consideration when you’re reflecting on just how to relate and explain your past behavior to your kids.

It’s kind of like the similar experience of imagining your parents having sex.

You know they did it, because, well . . . you’re here. But you still hold out on the hope that you actually were adopted, because that would mean that maybe your parents were just really good friends and didn’t have to do the nasty.

“It’s important not to forget the dumb things you did, because I assume you don’t want to repeat them. At the same time, it’s also vital you don’t dwell too long in the past either—both from the perspective of holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-I-did-that to wallowing in pitiful sorrow for the past mistakes you made.”

What do you tell your kids about your past? What’s appropriate and inappropriate? What level of disclosure warrants recollection and to what extent?

Any parent wants the best for their kids. Besides, we definitely don’t want them making the same mistakes we did. It’s also hard to admit that we’re human too. I don’t know about you, but until I was in my mid-thirties, I pretty much assumed that my dad could do very little wrong, much less do something stupid.

Since then, I’ve discovered he is, in fact, human and fallible. We all are.

How do you talk with your kids? Here’s some starting points to begin at.

Realize they don’t need to know everything. (And probably don’t want to!)

That time when your prophylactic device broke after you got drunk and stumbled into bed with you-know-who? And then how you had to get the pregnancy results after you had puked on the floor? Yeah. You’ve got to set your own boundaries. And your kids don’t need to know details, because they’re smarter than you think and probably can read between the lines, anyway.

“When I first got sober, our oldest son was 11 and our youngest was 6. Both of them pretty much only knew that I was gone from their lives for a while.”

What you can recount to them is that drugs and alcohol make you do stupid things.

To this, they’ll probably say, “I know, dad!” with an equal look of embarrassment and resentment for bringing it up.

But then, you should say, “Yeah, you probably do know that. But what you don’t know is that, while you’re drunk or high is that you won’t know how stupid you are.”

The point is communicating to them that the choice to use addictive chemicals is ultimately theirs. You can share the stories that strike home this point most effectively. What’s more, you can relate how the choice you made messed up things so much for you.

Determine appropriateness, context, and take age and comprehension into consideration.

When I first got sober, our oldest son was 11 and our youngest was 6. Both of them pretty much only knew that I was gone from their lives for a while. Since I kept my addiction hidden, I’m not sure how much they knew about what I went through and how much I regret missing those years in their lives.

Later, in their teen years, I became more open. Acknowledging how to speak with younger children about addiction and how to talk to teens is the first step any parent should take.

Assess the context too. Be honest with what they need to know, and know when it’s inappropriate to tell them. Candidly share how destructive chemicals can be, especially to young developing brains. Above all, educate yourself to the medical reality of not just the dangers of abusing alcohol or drugs, but share the reasons behind your own use of these substances and how it wasn’t a long-term solution.

They matter. Put the rubber to the road and make a difference!

This last concession need not be stated, it’s so obvious. It’s shocking though how many of us simply fail to make the effort you need. It starts with the recognition of this one, simple fact.

They matter.

Your kids matter not because they are moderately similar facsimiles or simulacrum to you personally. Your kids matter, because they have their own lives, dreams, wishes, fears, hopes, and desires. They’re human beings, and you’re given the daunting task of raising them.

“Educate yourself to the medical reality of not just the dangers of abusing alcohol or drugs, but share the reasons behind your own use of these substances and how it wasn’t a long-term solution.”

Many parents fail to see the most simple, straightforward actions you can do to put (allegorically) your money where your mouth is.

Spend time with them. Watch what they’re doing. Talk with them.

These actions don’t even necessarily have to do with your past or drugs and/or alcohol in particular. Then why mention them?

I bring this up, because for you to understand your kids, you need to spend time to begin to comprehend what their lives mean to them.

In so doing, you’ll be setting a firm foundation to have other conversations to positively influence their own decisions they make about drinking or drug use. What’s more, they can decide with whom to share their own experiences.

And maybe you can tell about that time you wore a Micky Mouse hat while you were naked and blacked-out on the couch.

Well, maybe.

 

Boredom—Problem Itself or Symptom of Something Else?

The Secret to Learning to Live in Long-Term, Sustainable Recovery from Addiction

I love the Internet. I love it so much as to intentionally capitalize it, which is saying something at least from a grammar-nerd or wordsmith point of view.

But seriously, haven’t you ever gone down that quiet, Sunday-afternoon rabbit hole? You open your laptop (or flip on your tablet or smartphone) to search for some obscure tidbit of information only to find another hyperlinked article only vaguely related to your initial query. Then you bounce, Frogger-like, from article to article until you realize that, once again, you’ve finally ended up reading new articles about a topic that never ceases to fascinate you.

With me, it’s aliens.

Nowhere else in the vast recesses of, who knows—from some rusty server stashed in a damp, rural Michigan basement—can you find such utterly bizarre, thoroughly idiosyncratic tidbits of juicy information. As long as people can still look to the sky, I guarantee that I will still be able to banish boredom. As long as I still have a good Internet connection at least.

But don’t let my prosaic wanderings prevent you from reading further to learn what I really want to talk about. It’s not the Internet in all its wonderfully chaotic glory. It’s that quiet Sunday afternoon I mentioned above. Because, you see, life has lots of quiet Sunday afternoons and, truth be told, there are only so many wacky alien stories you can read about or watch a YouTube video of.

From one recovering addict to another, I want you to know that I get it. I understand you, because I’m a lot like you. The fact is that if there were one trait I had to name that every person struggling with addiction owned, I’d have to say it’s our tendency to become easily bored. That, and also thrill seeking, I suppose. But they are related.

We don’t like being bored. It’s one of the aspects about addiction that “normal” people frequently do not understand. We started using drugs and/or drinking so hard, because it’s really fucking fun! My little insertion of the f-bomb wasn’t just a slip of my fingers from my keyboard, either. The emphasis was intentional—drugs, alcohol, partying . . . whatever floats your addict boat—they’re interesting.

The problem with us is that we took that interesting, wonderful activity and turned it into all there was or ever would be. Unfortunately for us, long-term abuse of drugs or alcohol simply isn’t sustainable or healthy. What’s more, the other problem addiction causes is perhaps more insidious: it turns the things we once found interesting and life-giving into boring tasks we just have to wade through.

So what’s the answer? How do we learn new ways to banish our boredom? Below I’ll share the secrets I’ve learned that seem to work for me. But first you need to know one other big point.

Boredom Itself Isn’t The Real Problem

What makes something boring? It certainly isn’t because any one task is intrinsically boring. I mean, it’s a matter of perception, right? Mowing my lawn I suppose is boring. I wouldn’t want to have to do it as my job. But I really like the way my lawn looks after I mow it, so I do it.

Other times, “boring” simply means I cannot think of something exciting to accomplish and I sit around, waiting for it to hit me alongside the head. “Oh yeah! There’s X I can do! That’ll be fun!” Sitting around rarely stirs up this response, anyway.

Before I got sober, drugs and alcohol were always in the picture. Even if I had to bear through whatever tedious tasks or lack of stimulation the hours would offer, I knew at the end of it I’d have time to celebrate.

The real issue with boredom is that it is a symptom, not a problem itself. I get easily bored, because I’m wired to like excitement. I love to get off and have a great time! And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that life isn’t one giant roller coaster every single minute.

The real problem behind boredom is that we are uncomfortable allowing whatever exists in any moment to simply be. Children and adolescents are frequently bored, especially in western, developed cultures. I think it’s telling that many addicts or people struggling with addiction find themselves in a similar frame of mind. Point taken—lots of addicts never want to grow up. Boredom is only a symptom of this larger issue.

So how to deal with it? I don’t claim to be an expert with this problem, because I still struggle from time to time, but here are some things I’ve learned about dealing with boredom in recovery.

Step #1: “Now” Is All There Ever Is

Without getting overly woo-woo and pretending I’m some eastern yogi to impart this wisdom to you, realize first that I have to remind myself of this fact. Interestingly, some scientists say the now is all there ever is, and that time itself may be an illusion. But even if this isn’t true, that doesn’t mean that I can’t allow each moment to be, simply as it is meant to be. Boring, or not.

What this boils down to when applied to the problem of boredom is that it’s okay to be bored. It won’t last forever, and, in fact, may be a helpful tool to motivate you to make healthy decisions to alleviate your boredom. Later, when the “now” becomes exciting, interesting, or at least less boring than you were earlier, you’ll see that boredom is only one way of existing. It’s not particular comfortable, definitely not fun, but it’s part of the human experience. Everyone is bored at some moment in their life.

Step #2: Expand Your Possibilities

You’re bored. You’re sitting in your living room, wondering what to do. You go through lists of things you need to do, things you’d like to do, and things that sound just as boring as your current activity.

Which one do you do?

If you’re like me, you’ll try to think of the most enjoyable things and try one of them first.

This is nearly always the wrong choice.

As people in recovery, we have the unenviable task of realizing that our first instinct in most situations is often the selfish choice. And, please realize, I’m not saying that sometimes the right choice is a selfish choice. It’s just that the first choice of “what to do” is not continually the selfish one.

Expanding the possibilities to escape boredom requires that we choose another activity that may seem on the surface to be really kind of boring or at least take more effort than sitting around thinking how bored you are. The surprise comes when we discove
r . . . Hey! . . . This isn’t as bad as I thought!

Another reaction might be more like: You know . . . this really sucks. But whatever experience you have, as a person in recovery you realize that any choice that leads back to using can only ever make the situation worse. Here’s one article that claims that boredom isn’t such a bad thing after all. Embrace your boredom! Think differently! Expand your possibilities!

Again, the process of recovery is really quite simple—it’s about rewiring your brain through specific actions in the long term to make a difference at the end of the day. That’s it. The great thing about this is that, as you practice it and it becomes habit, you’ll find that you’re not as frequently bored as you once were.

Step #3: Serve Others and Graciously Receive Service From Others

This last one is perhaps the most important aspect to confronting boredom of them all. I don’t think we always need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to addressing certain aspects of our lives. That is to say, with respect to this topic, there are societies in which boredom is virtually unknown. That isn’t to say that individuals in these societies never experience boredom—it is a human experience, after all. It’s that in primitive or pre-modern societies the people needed a greater sense of interconnectivity to survive than the ever-isolating and increasingly individualized west.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not a luddite nor do I wish to return to a time when we foraged for berries and dined on moose-steak for dinner. It’s telling, however, when looking at photographs of people from other cultures that a sense of boredom is mostly non-existent. (The clever or careful reader will realize the irony in my choice of URLs for the previous link.)

I think the reason behind primitive cultures lack of boredom is that they were so much more interconnected and live for the sake of each other than we do. In fact, many Twelve Step programs list service as the basis upon which any solid recovery is founded.

I’m apt to agree. Mostly because when I reflect on my own history, I found that the times where I abused chemicals greatest were often directly correlated with times where I had isolated and removed serving others from my daily tasks. Perhaps not surprisingly, when I first entered treatment I was even unwilling to allow others to help me! Ironic when you think that it was my own choices and behavior that had gotten me to that place to begin with.

In retrospect, boredom is seldom something we seek, but often something we find. The counter-intuitive aspect in this is the more we’re willing to allow boredom to simply be, and allow it to move us to serve others and find new, exciting expressions, the less we find ourselves bored.

And the less we find ourselves bored, the less risk we have for a relapse. That’s a good thing.

Awareness: A Vital Starting Point for Addiction

But If You Get Stuck at Just Being Aware, New Problems Are Bound to Arise

“You’re not gonna leave it like that, are you?”

The question was fair. I had, after all, asked my friend why the clutch in my 1979 Ford Bronco kept slipping when I stepped down on the gas.

I was living in western North Dakota. It was about 17 or 18 years ago. I had purchased the vehicle as my beater hunting rig. It was black, white, and mixed with varying shades of paint-bubbling rust. It had a 400 cubic inch engine that got about 11 miles to the gallon, and its exhaust system was topped off with a CherryBomb glasspack muffler which barked its presence easily to anyone within four miles of earshot out on the prairie.

Several times my wife had to borrow it because her vehicle was in the shop. She told me she laughed every time she stepped on the gas, and kept laughing after she returned home. It was dirty, it stunk, and you could have scraped up enough dog hair from the upholstery to knit a nice sweater if you wanted.

I loved every minute I spent in it.

Back to the issue with the clutch. My friend the mechanical wizard told me that I had better get it working correctly. He explained how this particular vehicle’s transmission worked and how easy it was to fix it.

“Besides . . . awareness of the problem doesn’t fix the problem; it’s just the first step,” he said.

Well, I eventually did fix the clutch and some other poor soul has been long since stuck with that old Bronco after I sold it two or three years later. My friend’s wisdom, though, ended up sticking with me through other problems I encountered in life. One of them was my drinking.

I remember one day waking up to dispose of an empty bottle in my favorite hiding spot, above the ceiling tiles in the basement. When I stood on a chair to access the tiles, I could see the sundry assortment of glass and plastic bottles I had racked up over several years (I’d never throw them in the trash, one by one—my wife would catch on too quickly).

“Well, holy shit. I’m an alcoholic,” I said to myself, looking at all the glistening plastic and glass lying askew, above in the drop-down ceiling. It was like some hidden diorama to the map of my life to that point. The booze bottles would soon be replaced with pill bottles, but it was all the same. I was an addict. I knew it. I was aware.

But being aware of a problem and actually doing something about it are two different things.

“Being aware of a problem and actually doing something about it are two different things.”

Awareness is Still Important!

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Established in 1987 by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the month seeks “to help reduce the stigma so often associated with alcohol addiction by encouraging communities to reach out to the American public each April with information about alcohol, alcohol addiction, and recovery” (Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow).

It seems now like there is a new month, week, or special day set aside for any myriad of social issues, political advocacy topics, or general interests. (Sheesh! There’s even a Ford Bronco Super Celebration day held annually.) However, with the ubiquity and availability of our nation’s #1 psychoactive drug—alcohol—I fully endorse and wholeheartedly support any plan to raise awareness of the problems immoderate alcohol consumption contributes.

When you think that over 17 million (million!) people suffer from alcohol use disorder or physical dependence on alcohol in the United States alone, you begin to realize the pandemic we’re dealing with. If one of every twelve adults were to contract some new illness that medical professionals determined would degrade and eventually take that person’s life, it’s a safe bet that people would become hysterical over the news. But this happens all the time with alcohol and, more often than not, people shrug their shoulders.

So . . . awareness of the issue is very important. And it’s the first step. What next?

What Happens After Awareness?

Just as if I had ignored the problem with my old Ford Bronco’s clutch it would have never resolved itself, so too the issue with alcoholism or alcohol dependency requires a response, not simply awareness. In the case with my vehicle, new problems would have also inevitably creeped in somehow. I’m sure the same would have happened with my addiction. That’s why there is another segment of awareness that’s equally crucial to addressing the problem. Namely, the solution for addiction.

Millions of people do find the treatment they need to lead productive, fulfilling lives without alcohol or drugs. Many relapse, yes. But relapse is a part of many illnesses. What’s important is that some do find long-term recovery. What’s more, the sobriety periods people do claim are real and eventually bear fruit to longer-term solutions. For example, it took me three inpatient treatments, several outpatient support programs, and ongoing care to finally achieve a longer-term recovery. Notice that I wrote “longer-term” solutions, because I don’t believe I’m ever “done” at working to retain my sobriety.

This April will come and go. Next year will play host to another Alcohol Awareness Month. What we can do today is realize that this problem can never be defeated in a vacuum. That is to say, we need each other and we need good quality data to make the next step to allow people to recover their lives and become self-aware of their own behaviors. The various modalities for recovery continue to expand as addiction research progresses. It’s my hope that others who are suffering will find the new effective resources they need to reclaim their lives.

The Sexiness of Vulnerability

The Secret Every Woman Treasures & One That Guys Just Can’t Seem to Get

Vulnerability. What’s that? Vulnerability’s for wussies.

If you’re a guy like I was, maybe you’ll define it with even more patently offensive and sexist terminology. (Hint: it rhymes with wussies.)

And it’s not like I was—or am—some six-foot-two, 230-pound macho football jock bent on conquering the high-school prom queen.

Hardly.

I’m more the five-nine, bespectacled, 160-pound geek who is only happy not to choke on his words in front of a beautiful woman.

The definition of vulnerability, via the magic of Google search, is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” Vulnerability, and we’re talking about emotional vulnerability, is opening yourself up to another human being, one with whom you want to trust and one who you want to trust you.

Brené Brown, the brilliant research professor at the University of Houston and the amazing speaker of TED-talk fame has this to say: “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”

I’d also add that men, especially, have a tough time being vulnerable. Rather than add to the mountain of articles and evidence about the advantages of, or the absolute necessity of accepting vulnerability to live a wholesome life, I’m going to convince guys another way. I want especially all the men out there who never took the time to consider emotional vulnerability—much less be vulnerable—to know the secret power of emotional vulnerability.

It’s sexy as hell!

I mean it; it drives women crazy. So go ahead guys—if you need to begin being vulnerable for the sole reason of satisfying your woman, knock yourself out. I should add, too, that I’m pretty sure that the same goes for same-sex relationships as well, but being a cis, hetero guy I can only speak for myself.

What you’ll eventually find is that not only will you have a more satisfying sex life, but you’ll discover that being vulnerable will allow you to become a more authentic human being.

So why is it that guys don’t get this? Let’s find out.

Guys Don’t Want to Seem Weak

I think this point is the number one reason preventing men from understanding the power of their own emotional vulnerability. When men think of “getting in touch with their feelings” they believe that their wrists will become so limp that they won’t be able to spread the butter on their breakfast toast.

Here’s the thing though—emotional vulnerability is actually an act of enormous courage.

It’s courageous because when you have to open up and no longer hide behind the false-self you have created for yourself and others, you begin to merge with your authentic self. Believe it or not, men actually do have an emotional existence. It’s just that we so often like to hide, because we’re actually quite terrified what everyone will think of us.

Think emotional vulnerability is weak? Um. No. You’re wrong. It’s about the bravest thing you can do.

When I had to finally admit to myself that I could no longer drink like normal people, it was incredibly freeing. Finally, I didn’t have to hide! You know what else happened? My relationship with my wife got better.

And yeah, I’ll just say it—it was a huge turn-on for her. Why? Because it was really strong!

Redefining Your Emotional Life Will Supercharge Your Sex Life

Okay. I’m exaggerating a little. But the general gist of it is still 100% correct. Besides, you’re still reading, which means that I’ve achieved what I wanted to do as a writer.

Why am I going on and on about the connecting between vulnerability, relationships, sex, and life?

Because if you’re struggling to make ends meet in your situation because of a drug or alcohol problem, I can tell you that I’ve been there. I didn’t even want to consider what a terrible mess I put myself in, much less than delve into abyssal chaos of my emotional life. But with the help of professionals who knew what they’re doing and who used technology to benefit my emotional well-being, I suddenly experienced an epiphany about who I really was and what I wanted to do in life.

Not only can you do this as well, but I’m telling you, guys . . . do it. Get to the core of your emotional self. Be her macho man who’s in touch! It’s worth it.

Men’s Work, Life, and Recovery

They Go Hand in Hand—Two Realizations to Make Both Work for You

Most men strongly correlate what they do in their work life with their identity. And that’s not to say that women don’t do this too. It’s just that guys place great importance with their jobs so much that it becomes who they are as a whole.

Without going into reasons behind this phenomenon in Western culture, for the moment assume that it’s a given. What’s the problem? Well, when you’re looking at addiction or other life crises, it matters a lot. Because there’s nothing like an addiction or another major life challenge to turn not just your life upside down, but your job.

Before I found recovery, I lost my job. Generally speaking, there aren’t many employers who’d let their staff stay on after they’d committed multiple felonies. That’s where I was at.

Since I was like most guys and I placed a great deal of value in what I did, suddenly my life seemed to lose its center. I wondered whether I would ever be able to make change stick and keep a job.

The surprise for me—and for many men who finally discover lasting change—was that my work life and my recovery life weren’t two, separate identities. But first, I had to start building a solid foundation upon which to eventually discover the core of my identity. What’s more, I discovered the truth about my identity in the first place. I’ll get to that last part in a bit.

First, let’s look at how work and the concept of “self” have become intertwined and what dangers this notion holds for people struggling with addiction or other mental health issues.

Work and You

Most people will spend a little less than 30% of their entire life at work. So it would seem that it’s a big deal. Not only should you reap the rewards of that work—whether monetarily or emotionally—but it becomes the first category you use to define yourself.

Think about the last time you went to a party and met someone else for the first time. Maybe it went something like this.

“Hi. I’m Dan,” I say.

“Nice to meet you, Dan,” she says, adding, “Tell me about yourself.”

“Well I’m a freelance writer and award-winning author.”

“What happens with your job when your drinking, drug use, or some other habit begin spiraling out of control? ”

If you’re like me, you start with your job to introduce yourself. When I’m honest, I think the real reason I do this is because I want to matter. I want people to see what I do as useful and valuable, if not for themselves then for society as a whole. It’s not necessarily wrong—everybody wants to feel needed and valuable.

But therein lies insanity, too. Because what happens with your job when your drinking, drug use, or some other habit begin spiraling out of control? The habit takes over. Your work performance takes a dive off the Grand Canyon.

Suddenly, you ask yourself, “Who am I?”

Did the problem begin with your insistence to connect your identity with your job, or did it start with your drinking/drug abuse?

Both, really. Because people (and especially men) place so much value in their professional occupations and because chemical abuse most definitely will take over your life, all of the sudden a person in this situation is faced with the possibility that they really are nobody.

The unfortunate solution for many? Drink more! Use more heroin. Take more pills! Eat more! Hop into bed with more people!

All these things are bound up together. What’s the way out?

You and Work

The very first step anyone needs to make in a new life is to turn to a professional, well-accepted outside source to assess where you are at the moment. That’s just a long-winded way of saying you need someone to hold a mirror up to your face. If you’re like I was, you’re probably at a place where you’re desperate enough to start listening to what others are telling you.

“The most amazing realization for me was that I had an identity other than what I did for a living.”

Then, the next step begins with building a new foundation of your identity. And guess what? It doesn’t begin with your work!

You begins with you. Brilliant, right?

“But who am I without my work?!” you gasp in desperation. Guys, and especially guys with high-profile jobs, struggle with this question.

I suppose the most amazing realization for me was that I had an identity other than what I did for a living. Certainly, this realization was the most helpful in sustaining a new lifestyle, because it didn’t begin with what I did or how I performed at work.

And the other surprise was that my work performance actually took off once I quit placing so much value in it. The irony.

Do you want to quit the rat race and start living life? Do you want to permanently divorce your career from defining the core of your identity? It can be done. But you’ll need first to begin anew. I know, it feels scary. But believe me, it’s totally worth it, because you’re worth it.