Tired

Is just “being tired” good enough?

I mean, is being tired a good enough reason to quit doing that thing that you never should have started? Is it okay to simply say I want to stop harming myself in a variety of ways?

Is it a good enough reason to start doing the right thing? Is it okay to say I want to make healthy choices now?

Just because I’m tired?

12 Step groups have a saying: “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” But is being tired a legitimately good reason to make changes in one’s life?

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Being tired means a lot of things.

It means I am worn out. It means I have been trying to do this on my own. It means I am ashamed of what I have done. It means I am afraid of consequences both current and ongoing. It means I am ready to give up. I am finally ready to admit I need some help.

Maintaining a life of addiction is exhausting. Continuing to live a life of hypocrisy takes a ton of energy. There is so much planning and plotting that needs to take place. There are so many stories that need to be developed. There is checking and re-checking to make sure the same lies are being told. There is constant paranoia of everything that is so thinly held together finally falling apart.

And then there is the guilt. Guilt at damaging one’s own physical and spiritual body. Guilt at damaging our family relationships, work relationships, friend relationships. Guilt at letting people down. Guilt at feeling so guilty that the only way we can get over it is to take more of the drug that led us to feel guilty in the first place.

All of it is so overwhelmingly exhausting.

But I still ask: is that enough to start making changes? Shouldn’t there be some sort of light bulb idea, a moment of clarity, an urge of a convicted conscience to do the right thing?

I don’t know. Maybe.

What I do know is this: I just wanted to stop.

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Addicts in early recovery are tired people. Their bodies are going through withdrawal. Their routines have been altered. They are starting to pick up the pieces and mend that which was broken. Some people in early recovery have difficulty sleeping because their drug of choice was a depressant. Their bodies don’t know how to go to sleep without it. Some people in early recovery do nothing but sleep because they are so depressed and filled with fear they do not know what else to do.

Addicts in early recovery are not looking to be coddled. Or to be seen as a victim. Or to be pitied. But they would love to not be tired anymore.

And that is why being tired is a good enough reason to start making changes. Because on some days in early recovery, I didn’t want to not drink. I wanted to not be tired.

I was appreciative in those early days of recovery when people simply said, “Good to see you,” and meant it. Because I hated answering “How are you?” But I was grateful for those people who were genuinely glad to see me. I was grateful for the numerous people who babysat my children so that I could go to a meeting. Or spend time alone with my spouse.

I was grateful for those people who supported and encouraged me because I was too tired to do anything on my own anymore.

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For those of you who are not addicts but are in relationship with people who are, please remember this: you do not need to fix them. Indeed, you cannot. Please also remember that addicts are not always bad people. They are often good people mired in a struggle that they want badly to overcome.

But here is what you can do: help them rest. Sit with them. Work with them. Worship with them. Go to movies with them. Eat meals with them. Babysit for them. Find even more creative ways you can help them rest.

Because sometimes, they are just really tired.

I Can’t…

This post was originally shared back in 2012. While some things are not the same (I have since graduated), these thoughts still ring true. I want to write more about what I experienced last week, but right now all I can do is share these thoughts again; thoughts that were re-emphasized as I realized more and more the truth of how much I can’t. But just maybe we can.

So here’s the deal:  I can’t do this on my own.  What is “this”?  Simply put:  everything.

I am a husband.  I have failed many times in my relationship.  Yet my spouse continues forgiving and loving me.  (To be fair, my wife will say the same is true of her, but this isn’t her blog post).  I desire to become a better husband every day.  To that end, I have parents who have shown me what it means to love your spouse for more than 50 years.  We attended pre-marital counseling 15+ years ago with a therapist who ended up being my clinical supervisor this past summer.  I have many men and women who have been willing to listen to me and pray for me and offer me kind, gentle words of encouragement.  Many people have helped shape me into the husband I am today.

I am a father.  It is my goal to:  a. be the greatest father ever in the history of the world, and b. never make any mistakes.  So far, I have not succeeded with either of those.  In order to learn how to be a good father, I can look to my parents, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my grandmother, my cousins, and so many friends (not to mention my wife!).  I have learned so many lessons from people who were willing to talk to me when they could see me struggling with my children.  I have sought counsel from so many people who have raised and are still raising their own children.  I have shared with other parents who have (for some strange reason) come to me seeking guidance and support.

I am a friend.  There have been so many times I have let my friends down, I sometimes wonder why I still have any.  Yet still they hang around.  During the lowest points of my life, there have been certain friends who were always available, always ready to listen, always ready to stand by me (regardless if they approved of what I was doing or not).  In high school, my friends taught me the importance of learning how to accept people’s differences without compromising my principles.  That lesson is one that was hard for me to learn.  I have learned more and more how to be a friend from those friends who have continued to put up with me.

I am studying to be a therapist.  I am part of a cohort of students that have accepted not only me as their classmate, but my wife and children as part of our Marriage and Family Department family.  When Shawna went to India on a 10-day mission trip, my children and I were fed by my classmates and professors every day.  My children had babysitters when needed.  When we have had parties and get-togethers, my family has been welcome and loved.  I have learned so much from the perspectives, experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of my cohort, the cohort who graduated last year, and the cohort who is just starting in this program.  I have learned a lot about being a therapist from my professors and supervisors who have encouraged and supported me (and put up with me) every step of the way.

I am in recovery.  Every day I wake up sober is because of the love, support, encouragement, butt-kicking, and teaching I have received from more than 75 years of experience of others who have 12-stepped their way to health.  I have a support system that transcends support groups made up of countless family members and friends.

I am a Christian.  Every day, I strive to live a little bit better than I did the day before.  I try to love God and love other people.  I hope that my eyes are open to opportunities to serve, my ears are open to cries for help, and my mouth is closed until absolutely necessary.  I could not even begin to list the people (both believers and non-believers) who have taught me what it means to follow the God, Jesus, and Spirit I believe in.

I can’t do this on my own.  I know because I have tried and failed.  But with you, and you, and you….

Just maybe we can do this thing called life.

When Listening Is Tough

Story is powerful.

Your story is powerful. Your experiences, your wisdom, your knowledge, your interpretation, your worldview, your perspective. All of it is important. And all of if it is what makes you who you are.

I love hearing stories. I love when people are vulnerable enough to open up and share what they have been through. There is no experience you can share with me that is too dark. And there is no experience that is so boring it is unworthy of being told.

We need to tell our stories. I am grateful for the opportunity to share mine. I am hopeful you will have opportunity to share yours.

There is a problem with story-telling, though.

Actually, it is not even really a problem with the telling. The problem is: we don’t listen enough.

There are times when we are so completely wrapped up in and moved by others’ stories. We will pay good money and devote plenty of time to go hear some of the best motivational speakers tell us how they overcame tremendous odds to get to where they are. While it is sometimes difficult to listen to preachers on a Sunday, if someone comes to share their testimony they have the attention of the entire crowd. We love to go to movies, especially based on true story movies, that detail the account of an underdog rising up to become a champion.

But too often, we believe some people’s stories are not worthy of being heard.

_________________________

I went and saw the play Nickel and Dimed this past weekend (based on the book of the same name). At the end of the production, the characters come out and give short monologues on their experiences with working low wage jobs in America. They are honest. They are raw. They are at the same time filled with hope yet laced with despair.

Stories of poor people are often disregarded. People will say some hurtful things:

“They need to work harder!”

“Why are they taking my money?”

“Jobs are plentiful; just go flip burgers.”

“I’ve always worked. Why can’t they?”

“They are such leeches.”

But when was the last time you sat down and listened the story of a poor person? When was the last opportunity you had to listen to a family in generational poverty? Have you ever even realized the difference between generational and situational poverty?

When was the last time you just listened?

The stories are not pleasant. They are hard to listen to. They are hard to accept. It is hard to acknowledge that some people do not have the same opportunities or access to resources that you have had. It can be hard to understand the reasons behind the decisions some people make.

But you will never be able to learn if you first do not listen and hear their stories.

_________________________

I went and saw a play written by an African-American student at a local university. It detailed the stories of people in an urban setting and what might lead them to gangs or drugs or violence. It is hard to acknowledge that people who participate in illegal activities may have really ended up believing they had no choice.

As I watched this story, I was moved by the portrayal of people who truly wanted what was best for themselves and the people they loved. But no one was around to teach them. No one was around to pay any attention to them. Although a portrayal, it was just as powerful as the play that was based on real life stories.

Because so many black people have been disregarded and cast aside. They have been called thugs, or uneducated, or drains on society. They have been called disrespectful and told they should just suck it up. They have been told that our society is equal now, so quit dwelling on the past.

But when was the last time you sat down and listened to the experience of person of color in this country? When was the last time you asked how people felt when presidential nominees spewed racist tropes and then saw their poll numbers increase?

It may be hard to acknowledge that Blacks, and Latinos, and Native Americans, and others truly experience discrimination and prejudice. It may be difficult to acknowledge that things are not as good as we hope they are.

But you will never be able to learn if you first do not listen and hear their stories.

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Everyone’s story needs to be heard. And you cannot correct someone else’s story. It is their story. Just like your story is yours. And that needs to be shared and heard, as well.

There is a lot of noise in our world today. And an election year only makes it worse.

Please stop the noise. Don’t talk over other people. Don’t disregard stories. Listen. Better yet: invite people to your house, have a meal, sit, and listen to their experiences. Truly listen to what they are saying. Then share your experience.

Everyone’s story must be heard. But in order to hear, we must listen.

Especially to the ones that make us uncomfortable.

The Truth Hurts

This post was originally published in January of 2015. As we endure another election season, let us find ways to build relationships even when all the rhetoric seeks to divide us.

“I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.” The Invention of Wings.

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When working with clients, they often face some uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, they are being victimized by someone they love and they need to stand up for themselves. Other times, they are creating a problem and are coming to realize they need to change their own behavior.

Either way, they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

At times, it is more difficult because the person is doing something they know is wrong, but they have convinced themselves they need to do it. A person may hate dishonesty yet keep secrets from their partner in order to spare his or her feelings. Someone may hate insulting speech yet they often utilize sarcastic cut-downs as an attempt at humor to defuse a tense situation.

Not only do they need to be confronted with what they are doing that is causing pain, they need to acknowledge that their actions do not line up with their beliefs.

This is prevalent in 12 Step groups, as well. Most addicts hate using substances. Yet they cannot stop. They do not enjoy lying to their families, stealing to pay for their drug of choice, or destroying their bodies. But the need for satiating their desire is greater than the need to change behavior.

Again: they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

_________________________

In The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd tells the tale of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” Grimke, set in early 19th century Charleston, SC. Sarah is given the slave, Handful, as a gift for her 11th birthday. From a young age, Sarah hates the institution of slavery. She hates that Handful has been given to her as property. Yet she cannot free her no matter how hard she tries.

Throughout her life, she tries to figure out the best ways to treat Handful. In a particularly poignant scene in the novel, Sarah is looking at Handful and says to herself, “I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.”

That tremendously captures the human experience. Intellectual assent or opposition is easy. Practical application is hard.

I believe in the value of hard work. But what about people who are unable to work for a variety of reasons?

I believe it is necessary to abide by laws. But what do we do with those people who break the law? Or how do we monitor those who enforce the law?

I believe abortion is wrong. But how should we treat women who have already had abortions? Or how should we treat the children born to women who struggle to provide for their kids?

I believe war is wrong. But how should veterans and active service people be treated?

I believe in looking beyond our differences and sharing community. But how can we still respect and honor different ethnic backgrounds and experiences?

I know what I believe in and what I oppose. But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

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I hate systemic racism.

I hate the denial that systemic racism exists.

I hate the reality of white privilege.

I hate the denial of that reality.

But what do I do with the people right in front of me—the people who I interact with daily that are suffering due to the unfairness and injustice in the systems and structures that are currently in place; as well as the people who think things really aren’t that bad and we all just need to get over it?

I know what I believe and I know what I hate; but what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I can speak up. I can speak out. I can build awareness. I can work for justice and equality.

But all of that must be done in relationship. I must remember that the person right in front of me is exactly that: a person. A beloved child of God. They have worth and value, whether they agree with me or not.

Because I have seen the effects of systemic racism and unchecked white privilege, I will continue advocating for people who have faced the unfairness inherent in the system.

Because I have relationships with people who have not seen the effects of unfairness, I will continue seeking ways to inform them. I will continue seeking ways to have conversations to explore some uncomfortable truths.

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We live in a country that essentially idolizes freedom. Yet many do not want to acknowledge that freedom is limited for a large number of our population.

We must acknowledge that truth; no matter how much it hurts.

So how do we do this? By getting to know people. By listening to other people’s stories. By paying attention to what is going on in our communities.

In other words, we do this by building relationships. We build relationships through dialogue and experience. Over the course of 2015, I will be making one challenge per month. These challenges are intended to increase awareness and build relationship.

There is a lot of negativity today. And much of it actually does need to exist. We need to be made aware of how difficult life is for people who face systemic racism and oppression of many forms.

But we need practical measures to bring about lasting change. I know what I believe. I know what I hate.

But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I will normally be posting the challenges on the first Saturday of the month, but I will post this month’s challenge here, as well:

During the month of March, invite one person into your home that has never been in your home before. Don’t meet them somewhere for coffee. Don’t choose someone who was in your last place several years ago. Choose someone you have never invited before and ask them to be a guest in your house. It can be for dinner, for dessert, for a game/movie night, or it can just be for a time to visit. But find someone you have not spent time with and invite them to be your guest.

Are you willing to try that?

Let us all look for ways to increase our awareness and grow our community by building relationships.