Broken Lamps and Restoring Relationships

How many variations of this theme of have witnessed or experienced:

A young child breaks something belonging to a parent. The child tries their best to hide the evidence, but the parent realizes something is missing. So the parent asks what happened. And no one says anything. Until finally the child cracks under the pressure. They approach their parent and, through tears and a choked up voice, they say, “I did it! I broke it!” There is typically some form of punishment, but it is not as harsh as the child feared.

We see the scene play out in sitcoms. I have witnessed it with my own children. I have experienced it as a child with my parents.

When we commit an act that creates destruction, we try to hide the evidence. We fear that if we come clean and admit to what we have done the absolute worst will happen: the relationship will come to an end, we will get in a lot of trouble, we will be a disappointment, no one will ever love us again.

And that is the reaction if all we have done is broken a lamp.

When we have done something we know to be wrong, something that violates our conscience, we want to hide what we have done. Our initial response is often one of self-preservation and protection. We try to cover up and divert attention. We keep it a secret.

And for as long as we can maintain the secrecy, we become more and more consumed with guilt for what we have done, paranoia that we will be found out, and shame for who we have become.

Yet when we are able to admit what we have done, we receive freedom from that shame, paranoia, and guilt. The consequences of our actions still remain. But we are no longer overcome with the pressure of trying to hide our mistake.

In terms of spiritual practice, admitting our faults is called confession. Confession is not something we do that absolves us of all wrongdoing. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “Sorry doesn’t fix the lamp.” That is true. But “sorry” can go a long way to maintaining and healing the relationship.

I have broken a lot of lamps in my life–both literal and metaphorical. I can’t undo that. But I can own up to it. I can admit it.

And when I am free from my guilt and shame and I am not living a life of paranoia, I can begin to restore relationships.

Sorry may not fix the lamp, but confession is definitely good for the soul.

The Harm of Self-Deception

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In my sobriety journey, I needed to learn the root causes of what led me to my addiction. The behavior was easy to identify: I was drinking too much, I was hiding it, I was spending too much money it, I was lying about it. In my addiction, I was not fully present with my family, my career, my church, my community. Addiction consumed all of my time.

But just changing the behavior was not enough. I had to acknowledge the hurts, insecurities, and fears that led me to that behavior.

And that was the scary part.

I could put on a good show. (At least, I thought I could.) I could maintain as well as anybody. I didn’t miss work. The bills were paid. The children were fed. Our house was secure. I showed up everywhere I was supposed to show up. When people looked at me, most probably thought I was doing all right.

In order to make them think I was doing all right, I had to convince myself that I was doing all right. I had to look at myself in the mirror and be okay with what I saw. I had to fix my face and create my story. And once I believed it, I could and be among other people.

I had to hide a lot. Again, it was not just my behavior I had to hide. I had to hide my fear. I don’t like any hint of any kind of interpersonal conflict. But I couldn’t let people know that. And I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I wanted to be in control of every situation, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was controlling. So I became quite passive-aggressive. Yet I convinced myself that I was truly in command.

The interesting thing about all of this is that I doubt I was as convincing to others as I was to myself. And I often wonder if I truly convinced myself.

I spent a lot of time putting on a show for other people. But that began with putting on a show for myself. I deceived a lot of people. But first I had to deceive myself.

The hard work of spirituality is recognizing the act and starting to look at what is really there. The truth hurts. But the truth is necessary. We have deceived ourselves long enough. Let’s stop.

Facing Our Addictions To Alcohol and Guns

An essential part of sobriety is acknowledging the addiction exists. Another essential step is recognizing our need for help followed immediately by a willingness to accept that help.

Once we start our journey, we then look a little deeper. Alcohol is not the problem in my life. Alcohol, in of itself, is neither good nor bad. It is a substance. The problem is that instead of facing my problems, I tried to drown them out with alcohol.

And to hide my addiction, I did several things.

I made excuses. I was too busy to deal with the actual problem. I was afraid of dealing with difficult people. So instead of having those challenging conversations, I would make excuses to avoid them. I became too busy. Or I looked for ways to please everybody. I found ways to avoid conflict. And when the fear and disappointment became too much, I would drown those feelings.

I looked for other things to blame. I have some family members who also struggle with addiction, so obviously it’s a genetic thing and I can’t really be held responsible, right? Also, alcohol isn’t really bad. It’s just that some bad people would use alcohol badly. So keeping bottles in my house was okay. And really, people who suffer from alcoholism probably have some other issue feeding it: lack of money, depression, other stuff that I could never actually come up with a name for.

I claimed I was responsible enough to handle it, while knowing there were others who couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to talk about alcoholism for two primary reasons: I knew I was one but didn’t want to admit it and I claimed I was able to be responsible in my use; I would claim that if I were to talk about the dangers of alcoholism I would alienate or induce guilt in those who could drink. So sure, there were people who weren’t responsible with it, but I was sure I wasn’t one of them–so don’t take my alcohol away.

I said I could control it. In order to show how well I could control it, I hid how much I was drinking. That makes absolutely no sense to a sober person, but in my addicted mind the logic was flawless. The fact that nothing tragic ever happened to me or my loved ones while I was drinking just gave me more evidence to prove that I was still in control. All the other signs to the contrary were ignored.

I would exaggerate. If someone told me I should reduce my drinking, I would accuse them of try to re-institute prohibition.

I would look for ways to distract the conversation. Whenever addiction or alcohol was the topic of conversation, I would look for ways to move the conversation elsewhere. Often, I would try to find a different problem to point to: “Yes, addiction is bad but poverty is terrible.” Or racism. Or mental health. Or any other number of hot-button issues that would get people talking about something else.

All of this was because of fear. I was so afraid that I was not capable of dealing with life without the aid of some kind of substance. I wanted so badly to be in control of everything  that I was willing to gamble with something that I knew had so many terrible potentially negative outcomes.

My fear combined with my need for control shut my mind to what was prudent, what was healthy, what was right. My fear combined with my need for control led me to more fear which led to a greater desire to control which ultimately led my decision to quiet the noise in my head by drowning it out.

Until I acknowledged the fear, until I acknowledged that I had an unhealthy desire to control everything, I could not begin to recover. Recognizing those realities in my life launched me toward a better life.

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We have an addiction to guns in this country. We are so intent on making sure we always have our hands on these tools of destruction that the deaths of innocents does not phase us. When we see the destruction and tragedy wrought by these violent weapons, we do what most addicts do.

We make excuses. We are too busy to deal with the actual problem–too much access, too many weapons. We are afraid of dealing with people who may disagree with us so we avoid engaging in difficult conversations. We become busy. We say we are grieving the last shooting’s victims so now is not the appropriate time. We avoid conflict by avoiding relationship with people on the other side of the issue.

We look for other reasons to blame. Some families struggle with raising their children the right way so it must be that the proliferation of mass shooters is a result of bad parenting. Also, guns aren’t really bad. It’s just that some bad people will use guns badly. So keeping guns in our houses or schools must be okay. And really, people who commit mass shootings probably have some other issue: lack of money, depression, other stuff that we can never actually come up with names for.

We claim we are responsible enough to handle it (even if others aren’t). We don’t want to talk about guns for two primary reasons: we know there is a problem but we don’t want to admit it especially since we claim to be responsible in our use; we claim that if we talk about the dangers of guns I would alienate or induce guilt in those who do use guns responsibly. So sure, there are people who aren’t responsible, but surely we aren’t among them–so don’t take our guns away.

We say we can control it. In order to show how well we can control it, we keep fighting to increase the amount of weapons available while decreasing the amount of regulations needed to acquire them. That makes absolutely no sense to most people, but in our gun-addled minds the logic is flawless. The fact that no tragic gun violence has ever happened to us or our loved ones just gives us more evidence to prove that we are still in control. All the other signs to the contrary can be ignored.

We exaggerate. If someone tells us we should reduce the number of guns or place restrictions on acquiring them to prevent those who shouldn’t have them from getting them, we accuse them of trying to repeal the 2nd amendment.

We look for ways to distract the conversation. Whenever guns are the topic of conversation, we look for ways to move the conversation elsewhere. Often, we try to find a different problem to point to: “Yes, gun violence is bad but poverty is terrible.” Or racism. Or mental health. Or any other number of hot-button issues that would get people talking about something else.

All of this is because of fear. We are so afraid that we are not capable of dealing with life without the aid of our weapons. We want so badly to be in control of everything that we are willing to gamble with something that we know has so many terrible potentially negative outcomes (and such a high potential body count).

Our fear combined with our need for control has shut our minds to what is prudent, what is healthy, what is right. Our fear combined with our need for control leads us to more fear which leads to a greater desire to control which ultimately leads to our decision to drown out the cries of the victims by shooting off even more bullets.

Until we acknowledge the fear, until we acknowledge that we have an unhealthy desire to control everything, we cannot begin to recover. Recognizing those realities in our lives will launch us toward a better, more peaceful life.

As with all addicts, we have to name our addiction for what it is: a disease. We have to be willing to search for the reasons that are leading us to our addiction: our fear, our selfishness, our hatred, our insecurities. Once we can realize what is lacking inside of us, we can move on to address our fears.

Learning to Appreciate the Silence

Sometimes, it is so hard to just be silent. We look for ways to fill in the gaps between one activity and the next. We want continuous noise to assure us something is going on. We hate the idea of sitting still and being unproductive. We think we must be doing something.

It is so hard to be quiet. For me, addiction is closely tied to noise. There was too much noise in my life. My mind raced non-stop. I couldn’t turn off. I was constantly imagining scenarios (work, home, family, friends) in my head. I was always running through my to-do list and focusing on what I was not getting done.

I was always exhausted and one thing I never did on a regular basis was to sit in silence. I would be at places that were beautiful and I would like it and I would enjoy the scenery…for about 5 minutes.

I grew up going to a Christian camp in Maine. When we lived in New York we went to a Christian camp in upstate New York. Both places were full of natural beauty. They were somewhat isolated campgrounds so they were both quiet. They were (and still are) great places to be to get in touch with God.

When you can be fully present.

I struggle to be present. I struggle to slow down and be quiet. I went to those camps, sat down in silence for a brief time, and then went back to my non-stop thinking process. There once was a time when I found a way to turn off the noise. And it was not a good way.

If we cannot learn how to sit in silence, something will eventually give. We will burn out. We will become cynical. We will turn to an addiction.

When we learn silence, we can receive peace. When we learn silence, we can be present. When we learn silence, we learn that we do not need to always be doing. When we learn silence, we can be restored.

So let’s all practice silence. 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 30 minutes; whatever seems to suit you. Start with small segments of time and grow from there.

Learning to sit in silence can free us from the struggles we face. Let’s learn together.