Twisting and Untwisting

Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

Last week was the first week of living in my new home apart from my wife and children. I missed my children terribly. I work from home and I’m accustomed to seeing them frequently every day. But now we’ve begun shared custody and I’m only with them on the weekends. It was painful, and I missed my wife. I felt very lonely. By the end of the work week I had relapsed. I felt angry and sorry for myself.

Friday morning I had a session with my therapist. What he shared with me moved me off the dark path I was thinking and walking. I want to share it with you here.

He calls them Cognitive Distortions. They are common patterns of unhealthy thinking, especially prevalent in the minds of people who suffer from major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and others. I imagine all of us have thought in one or more of these ways whether or not we suffer from a mental disorder.

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. RATIONALIZATION: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusions. One form of this is also known as “Mind Reading.” You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. There’s also the “FortuneTeller Error.” You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement). Or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause

I had fallen into all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and rationalization, among others: “I have failed at the most important thing in life—my family. I’ve lost everything important to me. I should have known this would happen because I always fail at everything to do with this addiction. Why did I think I could beat this addiction? I’m an idiot for getting into this addiction. I hurt Jess and my children, and now the pain has spread into both our families through this divorce. I want to be with my children. I am miserable and depressed. I can’t change this. I don’t want to live separated from them during the week. I miss my best friend. I can’t be happy without my children and wife.”

Interestingly and surprisingly, simply reading the list of cognitive distortions out loud helped me see the truth. It awoke my brain. I could clearly see the error in my thinking and I felt as if a fog was lifted from my mind: “Yes, this is extremely painful for many people including myself, but I can still be healthy and happy in this life. I can still be a good father to my children; they need me. I can still beat this addiction with God’s grace. I am in pain and I am sick but my soul is not dead.”

Last night, however, I felt the same fog descending on my mind and heart, and my addiction called to me. This morning I woke up feeling depressed and forlorn. I remembered the cognitive distortions. I read them and the fog lifted from my mind, but my heart still felt heavy. I couldn’t focus. So I took the day off from work to focus on my wellbeing. I cleaned, read scriptures, watched uplifting videos on lds.org, listened to uplifting music, showered, told a couple of friends what I’m feeling, and more. And now I’m writing this blog post. I still feel the pain but it is bearable now, and I feel important.

Hopefully readers will find similar relief by referring to this list of cognitive distortions in moments of pain and darkness.

 

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French Bread

Not sure what to say except I’m in a lot of pain and I felt a prompting to write about it here.

“Pain” is the French word for “bread.” So there you go.

My wife decided to divorce me. I feel hesitant to share details, particularly what she’s told me about her thoughts and feelings behind her decision. I don’t want to misrepresent them here and I don’t want to paint her choice in a negative color. Suffice it to say I think her choice is understandable and she deserves to feel loved and emotionally safe in her marriage. My multitudinous relapses over nine years made her feel the opposite.

Of course I feel sad. My emotions have been all over the place since she told me a couple months ago… depressed, lonely, angry (a lot of that one), abandoned, scared, fearful, stressed, confused (a lot of that one too), guilty, ashamed, lost, and I’m sure more which I can’t recall at the moment.

Oddly enough I also feel relieved given any future relapses won’t affect her directly. Not in the same way at least.

So now we’re figuring out this thing called divorce and I hate it. The state law here requires a twelve-month separation period before filing for divorce. I haven’t decided yet whether I like this law. A growing part of me wants it to be done and over with because it’s so painful… just rip the bandaid off already, please! Another part of me wants to hope that something will change her mind between now and the end of the twelve months. I’m afraid to hope for that. At the very least, this separation gives us some time to figure out the depressing details such as finances, when I’ll get to be with my children, etc.

Given my depression and this divorce I’m amazed I can still function at all. I have God to thank for that. Despite my choices causing this nightmare, I’ve felt His support with more intensity and focus than I think I ever have in my life. I purposefully distanced myself from Him after Jess told me her decision, particularly the specific guidance she received from Him while making her choice. Since then I’ve periodically turned to Him when I feel lost or overwhelmed, and every time He’s been right there for me in a powerful way. I felt Him sustaining me through the final weeks of my college education, enabling me to study and retain information even though I felt only half awake and couldn’t recall my coworkers’ names or remember to eat. I felt Him guiding me while I searched for a new place to live even though I hated doing it and I had no idea where to begin except that I want to live close to my children… He gave me three distinct confirmations where I’m supposed to live now, and I’m scheduled to move in before the end of this month. I’ve felt His support while working; He makes my brain think clearly enough to do my job well despite the restlessness and inability to focus which has now become the norm for me. I’ve felt His immediate reassurance every time I scream-pray in the moments when I feel an overwhelming surge of loneliness, anger, confusion, and fear. I don’t know how to describe it… He’s just there and He fills me with love every time I turn to Him, more quickly and more deeply than I’ve ever experienced before. This gives me hope and faith to keep moving.

Friends and family have also been amazing. People reach out to me almost daily, close friends and family as well as friendly acquaintances who offer their sincere support. I feel lost most days but after talking with one of these people I feel calm and able to take another painful step forward.

Of course no trial would be complete without Satan. I am extremely vulnerable right now and he knows it. He’s been kicking me while I’m down, taking advantage of my weakness. He really must be miserable if picking on a person in my current state is his favorite thing to do. He’s a jerkwad. Get thee behind me. (Modern translation: “Bye, Felicia!”) That’s all I’ll say about him.

A big part of me wants to be angry at my wife. A part of me is angry and I think that’s OK for now so long as I don’t seethe or let it steer my thoughts and decisions. I feel angry at her for leaving me when I need her most, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that a marriage relationship should be unconditional. Patient, yes, among other virtues; but not unconditional. (She stayed with me through nine years of relapses so I’d say she nailed the patience and long-suffering parts.) She told me she genuinely believes I will get better and conquer my depression, trauma, and addiction. Because of this I don’t believe she’s giving up on me, thought it’s extremely difficult not to feel that way. When I let myself think about this I end up at the conclusion that I’m simply not worth the pain to her anymore. I don’t know what to think of that conclusion but I’ve decided not to let my mind settle on any interpretations for now.

Some good has come out of this though. The day after she told me her decision I knew I needed to finally tackle the sexual abuse trauma I’d experienced in my youth. I’d put off working on it with my therapist for over three years because I was terrified of reliving it. I don’t know why or how to explain it but despite finding myself suddenly drowning in a new traumatic experience, I knew in my bones that I had to begin healing from the trauma of my youth and I had to do it *now.* (Maybe my mind and body could sense it would all be too much for me to bear if I didn’t start unloading?) My therapist and I dove in, and the sessions were extremely painful… but the healing has been powerful! I feel my addiction has less power over me because I’m finally processing those core events. It’s like I finally let a surgeon remove a decades-old, acid-leaking, miniature car battery from my chest. Breathing is easier and I feel more free.

Oh, and everything makes me cry now, so much so that it amuses me haha. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying—I believe it’s healthy and normal. But lately even the dumbest radio commercials and bumper stickers will get me teary-eyed. I just think it’s kind of funny and it makes me laugh to myself every now and then, which is nice.

Like I said, I’m not letting myself hope that my wife will change her mind. Of course I would welcome that but for now I feel a strong need to focus on Me. I cannot control her choices. A dear friend counseled me to seek Heavenly Father’s will for me and focus on that. I’m trying to do that and it helps. One day at a time helps too. Also, choosing to trust Heavenly Father that I can be healthy and happy without understanding Jess’s decision or His direction to her… that helps too. I feel His loving support now as I write this.

Thanks for reading. I feel better.

Healing Wounds I cannot Heal

Close-up of a dandelion

 

“Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ. …

“I repeat … there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.”

President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995.

I pray as I repent of my sins that the Lord will have mercy on me and heal the wounds I cannot heal, especially the ones I have inflicted on my loved ones and myself.

 

Small and Simple

red_leaf_fall

“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass…” (Alma 37:6)

 

About two months ago I was driving home from work and feeling overwhelmed by the changes I wanted to make. My faults and sins seemed to outweigh my efforts to repent and change. I prayed for help and wisdom. The Holy Spirit reminded me of certain principles I’ve learned in software engineering named Scrum.

 

One of my favorite parts of Scrum is the retrospective phase that occurs at the end of every work “sprint.” The purpose is to assess the team’s progress and identify the largest bottlenecks, then decide on the smallest changes the team can make that will have the greatest positive impact.

 

As the Spirit reminded me of these principles, I felt the Lord say to me, “What are your largest impediments to progress right now?” The answers came quickly: not taking the sacrament, and not exercising consistently.

Suddenly the changes I needed to make felt doable and my burdens instantly became lighter. I shared my experience with Jess, my therapist, and my bishop. He and I worked together so that I could take the sacrament again, and I did by the grace of God.

That was one month ago. Since then I’ve felt more peace than I have in a long time. Heavenly Father, Jess, my bishop, and my therapist help me keep a healthy perspective. I’m still working on the exercise part, but I’m gaining momentum there too. I am grateful for the faith, hope, and progress the Lord gives me.

It isn’t a Sin to be Weak!

The following questions–among numerous others–have been bouncing around in my head for the past few years:

Should I feel bad for my weaknesses?

Do my weaknesses influence my worthiness?

This weakness isn’t going away. Is something wrong with me?

Why hasn’t the Lord made my weakness a strength yet?

The Lord has been answering these questions piece by piece through wonderful people He’s placed in my life. Today He gave me another piece.

My wife shared this article with me. It is so good! I’m saving it. I can’t stop reading it! I hope it helps and uplifts you, too.

I get to choose my Ice Cream

image source: joaquinfsousapoza.com

image source: joaquinfsousapoza.com

 

I’ll be surprised if a theme or message comes out of this post. I have plenty of thoughts and I’m not sure what to do with them.

I think I’ve been trying to do recovery on my own again.

I recently took on a new role at work and the stress has begun mounting along with mixed emotions of fear, excitement, and “Holy moley I have to figure out this role and no one here knows how to fulfill it or even define it and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.” Make it up as I go? I dunno. I ordered four books yesterday. I hope I find some guidance from them.

New thought: I can surrender my fears to my Father in Heaven and ask Him to guide my efforts at work. That sounds good.

I’ve also been feeling a lot of sorrow lately. Many of my friends in recovery have relapsed recently. I know their pain and it hurts to see them go through it. I look up to all of them, and some of them had years of sobriety. I still look up to them. I’d be lying if I said their relapses didn’t frighten me. I’m afraid I’ll make it to a year or more of sobriety by the grace of God and then relapse. I think I feel afraid that such a course is what God has planned for me.

I don’t want to think that that kind of thinking makes sense, but I have my doubts. I guess it could be that God has a relapse planned for me, but that would have to accompany the notion that I don’t have a choice in the matter, or that my life is only a script written by someone else.

I think God knows whether or not I’ll relapse, but I don’t think that His omniscience determines my choices. That would be like saying I can control my mom’s choice of ice cream simply because I know that she’ll choose butter pecan over strawberry.

I think God knows me so well that He knows what choices I’ll make in any situation. No, that doesn’t determine my actions. Actually, I feel some comfort in knowing that my Father in Heaven knows me that well. Given that my eternal progress and happiness is His top priority, I can trust that He will always prepare a way for me to remain sober.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Nephi:

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7, Book of Mormon).

That feels right. I feel hope when I consider these words. God will not require me to submit to my addictions when He asks me to submit to Him. His will is not my misery or damnation. His will is my joy and progress. His will for me is my recovery.

I’m grateful to the Lord for revealing my fears to me. I feel much better now. I’ve been feeling afraid without being willing to surrender my fears. I feel relief now. I feel hope again. Thank God for my Savior who provides a way for my salvation, even from myself!

My wife just turned on Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. I gotta go. :)

Also, I have the coolest wife ever.

No, I’m not simply guilt-ridden or lacking willpower

LEAVE THE CHAINS

“Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will.” Elder Russell M. Nelson (1)

 

Yesterday I started reading Patrick Carnes’ Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. He’s amassed decades of clinical and empirical research. His insights are helpful.

I frequently face the temptation to get caught up in self-pity while going through recovery. It often sounds like this: “No one understands me. I’m alone. They don’t understand how hard this is. They’re judging me. They don’t want to understand.”

In the interest of combating my own self-pity and attempting to address my feelings of loneliness in a world that commonly advocates sexual exploration with concern only for the inherent physical health risks, and in a Christian culture that often lacks understanding concerning the slavery of addiction, I’d like to share something.

I hope I’m not appeasing my own self-pity by doing so. I think this is a sincere and honest attempt to bring awareness and tell the little red Loneliness devil sitting on my shoulder to can it and go away. If this is, however, a moment of weakness, then please forgive me and enjoy Mr. Carnes’ insights nonetheless.

“To view sexual addicts as people who are simply guilt-ridden because of sexual behavior is to completely misunderstand the nature of the addiction. This viewpoint assumes that addicts need to be more free and enjoy sexuality and that they feel bad because of unhelpful scruples and misinformation. An example is masturbation, which is now generally accepted as a developmental phase and a natural expression of personal sexuality. For the man who masturbates so often that he has at times severely injured his penis, it is no longer just a question of accepting his desire to masturbate. His masturbation is seriously affecting his life and bringing harmful consequences to his body.

“Sexual addicts feel the pain and consequences. They recognize the personal emptiness. If they are lucky, they may have some sense of the exploitation and harm to others. They wrestle daily with the fear of discovery of their compulsivity…

“… Were [one] to experience periods in which he repeated the behavior frequently with damaging results, he clearly would have an addictive pattern. Many addicts describe their experiences as episodic—that is, they occur in periodic binges that have severe consequences to their work, relationships, and self-esteem. Between binges, they may experience extended periods with no problems. Being able to stop for a period of time provides the illusion of control, which makes it more difficult for the addict to acknowledge that there is a problem. As years pass, however, a pattern of bingeing reveals an unmistakable addiction. For some addicts, the bingeing becomes so frequent that the behavior is almost constant.”

Carnes, Patrick J. (2009-06-21). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction

(1) in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 7.

Quote

HOW IT WORKS….

HOW IT WORKS

…we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with some­thing or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each per­son is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrange­ments our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when try­ing to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a pro­ducer of confusion rather than harmony?

… if the rest of the world would only behave…

What­ ever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity? Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Some­times they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the [addict] is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we [addicts] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical con­victions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or try­ing on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, The Big Book, Chapter 5, p. 60-62

Trying in a new way, a less worried way

meme-bednar-alone

 

In my last post I attempted to explain that the amount of recovery I receive is not in direct proportion to the amount of work I perform.

I do believe, however, that the level of recovery I experience is directly related to the level of trust I place in my God. In other words, the more I submit my will to His, the more recovery I receive.

I don’t have all the answers, but this has certainly been my experience as I’ve sought recovery.

“And now… I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Book of Mormon, Alma 38:5).

For nearly two years I attended addiction recovery meetings almost weekly. If I went out of town, I looked up AA meetings and attended those. I found strength from interacting with fellow addicts. I no longer felt alone.

I was self-evaluating, reading scriptures, praying, fasting, exercising, eating healthily, worshiping in church, and serving others.

I was learning about addiction, reading numerous books and blogs, and meeting regularly with my bishop. I even managed a couple stretches of abstinence, one of which lasted long enough for me to worship in the temple again. I was working hard and progressing.

But I wasn’t getting sober. I kept relapsing.

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