Hearing Voices

shutterstock_158676188Two nights ago, Dave and I watched the season premier of Homeland, a show about a brilliant but terribly flawed CIA agent played by Claire Danes. At one point in the episode, her sister, who happens to be a doctor, says to her something like: “What’s wrong with you is so wrong there’s not even a diagnosis.”

Ha! I thought this was such a funny line. Then I realized it was kind of familiar, too. It sounded exactly like the kind of thing the mean voice I hear in my head on a regular basis would say: You’re such a fraud and a failure! You’re bad and broken in ways that go way beyond what it means to be a regular human.  

My sister has a lot of experience with this mean voice, too. Lately, she’s been going to Alanon, which has been a great help to her—and me, too. Last week, she called to tell me something she heard a woman say after a meeting that was so powerful to her she thought it might change her life.

Really? I thought. A single idea could change your life?  And then she told me what the woman said: “I’m single and I live alone, but I’m in an abusive relationship.”

Meaning, with herself.

Wow. My sister was right. This idea could change my life, too. Of course, the notion that we’re hard on ourselves is nothing new, but putting it in terms of being in a potentially abusive relationship is a fresh, helpful way to look at the importance of how we talk to and treat ourselves.

Especially when you consider that, apart from God, the relationship we have with ourselves is the most constant, lasting, and influential one we’ll ever have.

No wonder in recovery we emphasize self-care so much. Being in an abusive relationship with yourself is pretty much the definition of addiction, don’t you think?  So it goes to reason that healing this relationship would be a big part of what it takes to achieve long term recovery.

This was brought home to me in a real way yesterday when I got a  call from a friend who’s in the same treatment center I went to seven years ago. She, too, was asked to write a letter to herself about her alcoholism and how she intends to stay sober.

I’ll never forget how much I cried and how surprisingly healing it was for me to write that letter. And it was the same for my friend. Something about intentionally talking  to yourself in an encouraging, compassionate way makes you realize how much of the time you unintentionally talk to yourself in ways that bring you down.

So maybe it’s worth asking questions like these more often: If that voice in my head were incarnated into a person—what would our relationship look like? What do I put up with that I shouldn’t? How might I set better boundaries about how I let myself think and behave toward myself?

And since that voice in my head isn’t about to reform or leave any time soon, how can I respond to her in a way that doesn’t just antagonize her further? How can I show that hurt, fear-driven part of myself the kind of compassion I’d show a sick friend?

I need to think a lot more about this, and maybe you do, too.

In the meantime, as we watch out for the mean voice in our head, we can also listen—with all our heart—for the voice of love that comes from our soul, created in God’s image.

I hope you hear that voice often.

Hugs and love, Heather

What if You’re Doing Better Than You Think?

shutterstock_189675050One of the hazards of recovery—and probably Christianity, too—is that we get so focused on change and growth that we forget that we’re okay right now. God isn’t waiting for us to finally get it all together so he can love us more.

Not long ago, I was helping a friend do some step work around a snarly job situation that had spawned a snake’s nest of resentments. As we talked through her anger at others, her part in it all started coming at her fast and furious: Ego. Pride. Denial. Compromise.

My friend was in tears, disappointed and scared. “How could this have happened when I’ve been trying so hard?”

There she was, sitting across the table from me, face scrunched with crying, all her pages of writing spread out between us. And in that moment, I thought I caught a glimpse of God’s compassion for her—how completely precious her sincere struggle was to him.

“Look at you!” I said, sitting back. “Do you see yourself? Look how hard you’re trying. Taking hours out of your busy day to do this work—all because you want to grow spiritually and live in God’s will and help others. I think you’re totally amazing, and so does he. You’ve never been a more beautiful person than you are right now.”

She gazed at me with at least a little doubt.

“No, really,” I said, plunging ahead. “God’s not waiting for you to finally lick all these things or get it all together. Guess what? That will never happen! This is it. You’re doing it. The stumbling forward, falling back, wobbling this way and that—this is life. It’s how God made us, and it’s okay.”

“Oh my God…you’re right!” she said finally. She heaved a sigh, and started scribbling notes, trying to capture what I’d just said.

On the way home in the car, I couldn’t help wishing someone would say those words to me. I related a little too closely to my friend’s situation—where you think you’ve got some shortcoming licked, only to have it kick your butt again.

An hour later, I opened an email from a reader and saw that she’d included a quote:

“What if it’s all okay? What if we’re all doing better than we could ever imagine? What if God is pleased with us even on our most ordinary, ego-driven days? What if this is simply what it looks like to be a human being on earth and we should all worry less? What if there’s nothing we need to necessarily FIX today? What a shame if we all run around living in FIX-it mode—only to discover that we could have relaxed into God instead and let ourselves be okay with being a bit broken?”

I was halfway through the quote before I realized that I’d recently written these words in Raw and then promptly forgot them. Now my reader was quoting them back to me.

Oh, the kindness—and good humor—of God! Clearly, he’d been humming around my heart, giving me words for my friend in advance of her needing them. And now, he wanted to make sure I got the message, too.

I read it again, slowly, and I saw the words ricochet—from God through me to my reader and then back again to lodge in my heart.

I thought you might need to hear them today, too.

P.S. It feels a bit awkward to quote myself to you twice in one blog. But I wonder, do you ever say to someone else what you really need to hear yourself …and not hear a word of it?

Waking Up Beloved

The Beloved, by Andrew Pavlovskly

Last Friday I wrote about how the word “sin” often evokes shame, especially in a recovery context.

But shame is a human problem, and long-time Christians are in no ways immune. I was a Christian for more than a decade before I became a slave to alcohol and shame.

For me, shame came first.

After accepting Christ in my late teens, I was starry-eyed about the free gift of salvation, anxious to spread the good news. But after the hallelujahs passed, I learned much more was required of me. I got busy with spiritual disciplines and a long list of do’s and don’ts.

Meanwhile, I learned in church that when a person is born again, our “old man,” the sin nature, dies and we become a new person.“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come,” writes Paul. “The old has gone, the new is here!”( 2 Corinthians 5:17)

But I didn’t feel new for very long. In fact, my capacity for sin seemed just as great as before I became a Christian. And the harder I tried to become more holy, the more guilty and burdened I felt.

I decided that my “old man” had faked his death or my new self had gotten mangled in the spiritual birth canal. Either way, I was a failure and a fraud.

Enter shame.

In shame’s shadow, I grew cynical and disillusioned. Even the meaning of the atonement got twisted. Instead of hearing, “God loved me so much that he sent his son to die for me,” I heard, “God hated me so much that he had to kill his own son just so he could stand to look at me.”

The depths of my spiritual crisis came clear to me one night when I realized that I didn’t share my faith with others because I wouldn’t wish what I had on anyone.

How sad is that?

I can’t say what happened next—a lot of drinking—was the direct result of my spiritual discontent. But I do think a shame-based faith was fertile soil for the seeds of addiction. 

Fortunately, I believe something different today. I think my “old man”—my ego-based, carnal self—will never die in the literal sense I once imagined that Paul was promising. Otherwise, why would New Testament writers so often remind us to walk, “according to the Spirit, not the flesh?”

After I got into recovery, I came to understand that Christ didn’t die to eliminate my sin nature, but to forgive me for having one. As long as I’m alive, my “old man” will never die, reform, or even go on vacation. Ugly will always be ugly, even when I try to dress it up in J.Crew. 

This small shift in how I think is slowly reshaping my spiritual life. I still fight, flee, and resist sin, but I don’t waste precious energy trying to conquer it beyond the present moment. I’m no longer shocked when sin hounds me, or when I wake up with a voice in my head that declares me queen of all I see.

I just smile at my old self, then get on my knees.

I think it’s natural that the more we know of God’s goodness and holiness, the more we become aware of the actual depths of our depravity. But if we wake up to our sin without also waking up to our belovedness, we wake up in a nightmare.

These days, I try to focus most of my spiritual energies on nurturing and calling forward that “new creation” self. The self which is made in God’s image, can’t be tainted or diminished by sin, and is deeply rooted in God—or, as Paul put it, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

I like to think of this self as my real self, my beloved self. This me is always saying yes to God and never doubts that God is smitten with her. Best of all, her face is never covered with shame.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that people who believe that the goodness of Christ actually dwells within them are more likely to see and serve Christ in others. I’ve noticed that people who know that they are not their sin are less likely to live in shame and more likely to fall with great relief into God’s arms.

Today, that’s me. And I wish what I have on everyone.