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The Importance of Finding and Standing in Our Truth

“What I know for sure is that you feel real joy in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth.” ~Oprah Winfrey

If we cannot live in and from our truth, then we cannot be authentic. The process of self- actualization is not striving to become the person we are supposed to be. It is removing what is not true for or about us so that we can be the person that we already are.

The hardest part of living in my truth was coming to understand and accept that it didn’t matter how anyone else experienced my childhood and my life but myself. That includes my father, mother, and three siblings. It also didn’t matter how others were affected or not. For our recovery only our truth matters

Why is standing in our truth so important? It is impossible to build a solid life on a foundation of untruths, lies, denial, fabrications, and misinterpretations.

Many of us have built our lives according to what we were taught and what we gleaned from a childhood spent in dysfunctional homes. We were asked to play a role that served our dysfunctional family system and not ourselves. We learned not to question the status quo, to follow unwritten rules, to live in denial and fantasy.

Growing up I thought my family was fine; everyone else was messed up. I thought everyone’s mother drank themselves into a stupor on a daily basis and everyone’s father had become a ghost. Neither of my parents was available for support or counsel.

I was no good, according to my father’s constant criticism, and would never amount to anything. I was a good football player and I would come off the field feeling I’d played a good game. That was until I reached my father and all he wanted to do was to talk about the block I missed or the tackle I didn’t make.

Slowly, I stopped to try to impress my father, and eventually I stopped trying anything at all. Then I found drugs and alcohol during the summer between ninth and tenth grade. 

I fell in love with partying and cared little for anything else. I quit football immediately and later quit school altogether. I was a sixteen-year-old boy making life decisions by himself due to his parents’ dysfunction.

Little did I know that no one looks favorably at partying skills, and they get you nowhere in life. It took me thirteen years to figure that out, after which I went to rehab and have been clean ever since.

I don’t think that I lost myself; it’s more like I never had myself. I was just pieces of those around me. I had tried so hard to be who everyone wanted me to be that I left myself behind.

“…human beings universally abandon themselves for five major reasons: for someone’s love, for someone’s acceptance and approval, to keep the peace, to maintain balance, or to stay in the state of harmony. When we abandon ourselves for someone’s love, pretending to be other than who we are in order to get someone’s love, acceptance, or approval, it is a form of self-abandonment.”  Angeles Arrien Ph.D., The Four-Fold Way 

I had spent my life being who others wanted me to be—who I had to be to get by, to be safe, to fit in, to not make waves. I no longer knew who I was, who I wanted to be, what I liked, and what I believed. I had been a chameleon for so long and had shape-shifted so many times that I didn’t know who I was.

This never hit me as hard as when I was a new member of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic therapy group. One of the older members confronted me during our check-ins. He said, “I don’t care what your sponsor or father thinks or what anyone else thinks; I want to know what you think.”

In working with that statement I came to realize that I didn’t have many original thoughts or beliefs. That I had let other people and events decide who I was for me.

“What you live with you learn, what you learn you practice, what you practice you become, and what you become has consequences.” ~Earnie Larson, a pioneer in the field of recovery from addictive behaviors 

It is devastating when you realize that you are inauthentic. That in some ways who you are and what you present to the people and the world around you is a lie. On the other hand, this awareness is also a blessing, because without awareness there can be no change.

I realized that I would not be able to find my truth while being subjected to the influence of my family. That I had to spend time away from them to do the work needed. That doesn’t mean that I had nothing to do with them. I just kept my time with family members short and superficial.

I also began to spend time with myself contemplating and writing in my journal. I began to question my beliefs, understandings, and positions.

John Bradshaw talks about coming to realize that the thoughts we are thinking aren’t our own. That it is someone else’s voice in our head and we need to determine whose. For me, I came to realize that so much of the self-critical thoughts were actually criticisms my father had of me that I had chosen to own.

In recovery, we say that “everything that we know is up for revision, especially what we know to be true.” In my own search I was so confused and uncertain of my truth that I had to start with discarding what I knew was not true—the things my father had told me, for example. The things that I was unsure of, I had to try on and drive around the block for a while.

Today I am aware that my search for the truth is a spiritual endeavor, which includes prayer, meditation, and contemplation. My hope and prayers are that all who read this will strive to find and live in and from their truth.

About Paul Hellwig

Paul Helwig is a certified life coach, speaker, author, and recovering addict with over twenty-eighty years clean. He uses his experience as someone who has healed from sexual abuse, a dysfunctional childhood, and drug addiction to help others in recovery. He believes that inner child and dysfunctional family work are two greatly underused areas of  healing, and he’s made it his mission to change this.

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Everyone’s Doing The Best That They Can

“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” ~Brené Brown

My favorite principle is this simple truth: Everyone is doing the best that they can with the resources they have. Adopting this belief has radically changed my relationship to myself and to others.

This idea has been explored by a constellation of religious, spiritual, and wellness practitioners. As Deepak Chopra said, “People are doing the best that they can from their own level of consciousness.”

At first, it’s a hard concept for us to swallow. In a culture that constantly urges us to do more, to be better, and to excel,  “I’m doing the best that I can” sounds like complacency—like an excuse. But what if we took a step back from our culture’s infinite growth paradigm and considered, “What if, right now, there is a limit to what I can achieve? Can I be okay with that?”

I first stumbled across this principle a few weeks after I quit drinking in 2016. It was a challenging time for me. In the absence of alcohol, I watched my anxiety soar.

I stayed away from bars and clubs to avoid temptation, but then felt guilty and “boring” for spending Saturday nights at home. When I met up with friends who’d previously been drinking buddies, our interactions felt stilted. I knew sobriety was the healthiest choice for me, but I couldn’t accept the way it impacted my ability to be social. I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I spent weeks in a frustrated mind space until I stumbled across that precious idea: “I’m doing the best I can with the resources at my disposal.”

At first, I recoiled. The high achiever in me—the climber, the pusher—scoffed at the suggestion that I was doing my best. “But other people have healthy relationships with alcohol. Other people maintain active, thriving social lives.”

But in that moment, I realized that my negative self-talk was an exercise in futility. It never boosted my inspiration or activated me toward progress. It just sparked a shame spiral that sunk me deeper into inaction and guilt.

So over time, I began to internalize this idea as my own. And as I did, I felt like a blanket of comfort had been draped over me. For the first time in weeks, I could sit back on my couch and watch Vampire Diaries without hating myself. It enabled me to find peace in the present moment and accept—not even accept, but celebrate—that I was doing the absolute best that I could.

I’ve found that this principle has been easiest for me to internalize when I’ve been going through deep stuff.

After a painful breakup last August, it took all of my energy to drag myself from bed in the morning. My intense emotions were riding shotgun, which sometimes meant canceling plans last minute, postponing work calls, or calling a friend to cry it out.

Because I was so obviously using all of my inner resources to get through each day, it was easy for me to accept that I was doing the best that I could. Throughout those months, I gave myself total permission not to do more, not to be “better.” For that very reason, those painful months were also some of the most peaceful months of my life.

Here’s the thing, though: We don’t have to hit rock bottom in order to show ourselves compassion.

We don’t need to be heartbroken, shattered, or at wit’s end. Maybe we’re just having a rough day. Maybe we’re feeling anxious. See, our abilities in any given moment depend entirely on our inner resources, and our inner resources are constantly in a state of flux depending on our emotions (pain, stress, anxiety, fear), our physicality (sickness, ailments, how much sleep we got), our histories (the habits we’ve adopted, the trauma we’ve experienced, the socialization we’ve internalized), and so much more.

When we consider everything that affects our capacity to show up as we’d like to be, we realize how narrow-minded our negative self-talk is. We also begin to understand that everyone comes from a wildly complex, diverse array of experiences, and that comparisons among us are useless.

Consider how this idea can be applied in some more challenging situations:

The Friend Who Is Stuck In A Cycle of Stagnancy

This goes for anyone who complains about a monotonous cycle in their life but can’t seem to break it: the friend who hates their job but doesn’t leave it, or the friend who complains about their partner but won’t end their relationship.

Those of us on the receiving end of our friend’s complaints may get tired of hearing the same story every day. But our advice to “just leave your job” or “just break up” will fall on deaf ears because it’s not that simple. They are doing the best that they can in that moment because their current need for familiarity and security outweighs their desire for exploration.

They are experiencing a tension within their desires, but don’t yet have the ability to act on that tension. The limitations of their emotional (or sometimes, financial) resources make it difficult for them to move on.

By accepting that we’re doing the best we can, we give ourselves the gift of self-acceptance and self-love. Only from this place can positive, sustainable changes to actions or behaviors be made

The Parents Who Hurt Us When We Were Kids

It can be especially challenging to apply this principle to those who have wounded us most deeply. But oftentimes, those are the folks most deserving of our compassion.

Parents have a responsibility to their children, and parents who hurt, neglect, shame, or otherwise harm their children are not doing their job as parents. But sometimes, our parents can’t do their jobs well because they don’t have the resources at their disposal. And even then, they are doing the best that they can.

More than likely, our parents didn’t learn the necessary parenting skills from their own parents. Maybe they never got therapy to heal old wounds or never developed the coping skills necessary to handle intense emotions. This principle can be very challenging, yet very healing, when applied to parents and other family members.

The Binge Eater (Or Other Addict)

This used to be me, and it took me years to accept that even when I was in the thick of my eating disorders, I was doing the best that I could.

From the outside, the solution seems simple: “Put down the cake.” “Don’t have a third serving.” But for folks with addiction issues—food, alcohol, sex, drugs, you name it—the anxiety or emptiness of not engaging with the addiction can be insurmountable.

Resisting the impulse to fill an inner void requires extensive resources, including self-love, self-empowerment, and oftentimes, a web of support from friends and family. Folks in the throes of addiction are caught in a painful cycle of indulgence, shame, and self-judgment, which makes it all the more difficult to develop the emotional resources necessary to resist the tug of the addiction.

But by accepting that they’re doing the best they can, they give themselves the gift of self-acceptance and self-love. Only from this place can we make positive, sustainable changes to our actions or behaviors.

It’s worth noting: Our actions have consequences, and when we harm others, we should be held accountable. But simultaneously, we can acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can, even when we “fall short” in others’ eyes. Forgiving ourselves (and others) is an emotional experience that transcends logic or justice. We can make the conscious choice not to hold ourselves to a constant standard of absolute perfection.

Believing that we are all doing the best that we can opens our hearts to kindness and compassion. It allows us to see one another as humans, flaws and all. Next time you feel frustrated with yourself, stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, you’re doing the best that you can.

Sit down with a piece of paper and divide it in half. On one side, write down the voices of your inner gremlins. What exactly are they saying? Are they calling you lazy, selfish, mean? On the second side, consider what inner and external factors affected your actions or decisions. Consider the emotional, physical, historical, and financial obstacles you face.

As you review your list of obstacles in contrast with your negative self-talk, summon compassion and kindness for your inner self. If she is struggling, you can ease her burden by quieting the self-judgment and replacing those negative messages with an honest truth: That you’re doing the best you can with the resources at your disposal.

About Hailey Magee

Hailey Magee is a Trailblazer Coach, writer, and digital nomad. She envisions a world where trailblazers are empowered to explore uncharted territory and unfurl a world of possibility – professionally, emotionally, spiritually, and more – to people everywhere. She has worked with over 100 clients of all ages across the United States and Canada. Learn more at haileymagee.com.

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How I’m Freeing Myself from the Trap of Stuff I Don’t Need

“In the marketing society, we seek fulfillment but settle for abundance. Prisoners of plenty, we have the freedom to consume instead of the freedom to find our place in the world.” ~Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish

I come from a time where passbook savings accounts were the norm.

I can recall skipping along to the bank, aged eight, with one pudgy hand enveloped in my dad’s and the other clutching a little booklet.

I’d wait my turn in line with butterflies in my belly. The teller was always so far away. But once I got to her, it was magical. She’d open a hidden drawer, extract the exact notes, and scribble the remaining balance into my passbook. Et voilà—cash in hand!

Everything about this performance was concrete and transparent: Whenever I withdrew money, I immediately saw my bank balance decline. And without the risk of it nosediving into overdraft, it’s how I understood money was a finite entity. It’s how my parents taught me to not spend beyond my means, to only buy stuff I needed or had saved up for.

Having a passbook savings account in my childhood and adolescence protected me from buying stuff carelessly.

Fast-forward to 2018, now living in Australia—which equates to residing in opulence for those living in developing nations—I’m not only thirty-six years apart from my eight-year-old self, but also thirty-six worlds away. In this world my eight-year-old self would throw a tantrum if she didn’t get the Barbie doll she wanted. I blame credit cards for that.

What also saw me come out on top all those years ago was the absence of the advertising glut that now penetrates an eight-year-old’s sphere.

In 1982 Fiji, TV did not exist. I played outside. I read Enid Blyton. I didn’t read the newspaper. And I can’t bring to mind any specific billboards of that time, even though I’m sure there were a few in the city, where I did not live.

Today, at forty-four years of age living in the era of affluenza and having a disposable income, advertisers know my attention is priceless. Yet, they get it on the cheap. This is despite my creating an anti-advertising bubble to cushion me: In 2014, I deleted my Facebook account. In 2017, my Twitter account. While I have Instagram, I do not use it. And I rarely watch commercial TV.

The ads for stuff don’t just infiltrate this bubble—they gush in. Into my inbox, even when I didn’t sign up for the next celebrity’s latest self-help book because I am something to be fixed. On my phone, when I receive a text promoting a sale of 15 percent off TVs all day today (and today only!). On trams, trains, buses, buildings, freeways…

The humble bus shelter does not escape from being turned into a billboard either. When I walk my dogs, I pass one that is currently telling me I can “drive away in a Polo Urban for only $16,990.” (Do I need a new car? After all my current one is nine years old, although it is running smoothly. Hmmm…) The posters on this shelter change weekly. It does not allow me the grace to become immune.

Even if I could construct an impenetrable bubble, it’d be pointless. The Internet and its cookies would see to that.

These cookies know—and remember with unfailing memory—what I desire (printed yoga leggings!). And they flaunt my desires by dangling carrots in front of me, whether I’m reading an online article, watching a video on YouTube, or searching on Google.

And if the Internet tempts with its cookies, then it decidedly seduces with its availability. I can now stare at the blue light on my ever-ready smartphone and make decisions to buy yoga leggings whenever I want.

The perfect time to do just that is before I flop into bed, after a long day’s hard work, cooking dinner, washing dishes, and watching an episode or two of my favorite show on Netflix. I should feel elated when I hit the buy button, but I find myself getting into bed not only with my husband, but also with guilt and a larger credit card debt.

The grab for my attention and time under the guise of convenience and a better life is, however, simply the tip of the iceberg. What no one can see is that I am waging a war against myself—with the monkey-mind chatter that jumps from one justifying thought to another, convincing me that something is a need not a want. This is an example of what the Buddhists call suffering.

About two years ago, my husband and I moved into the new house we built. It’s much bigger than one we’ve ever lived in. And as we prepared to move into it months beforehand, the justifications began:

We need new furniture to match the modern feel of the house. (Danish style, as we had been subconsciously brainwashed by Instagram with everything that was hip in interior design.) And we need a bigger TV for the bigger living space. A new fridge because our old one won’t neatly slide into its allocated spot of the spacious kitchen. And more paintings, since we now have more walls…

Not only did we ‘need’ all this stuff, but we also had to choose stuff that was ‘us.’ And it all had to look ‘just so’ when put together. So we researched online. Visited furniture, home, and electrical stores each weekend. Read reviews. Let the cookies take our minds into a rabbit hole of stuff we didn’t realize we needed.

Just thinking about all the time, money, and energy we invested to get it ‘right’ sets my heart aflutter and raises a sweat. It was gruelling—the number of choices, the number of decisions (Did you know that an eight-year-old now has hundreds of different Barbie dolls to choose from?). Luckily my husband and I have similar tastes; otherwise, I’m afraid, adding a number of arguments into the mix might have broken us entirely.

The evidence continues to pile up in favor of stuff even after the purchases have been made. After decking out our new house, I soon learned that not only did I possess things, but they also possessed me.

I worried about scuffing the freshly painted walls, staining the white kitchen benchtop with turmeric while making a curry, and my nephews scratching the wooden dining table by racing their toy cars on it. (What’s that saying? Is it “Stuff is meant to be used and people loved”?)

If I didn’t feel the compulsion to fill in the space, to make everything perfect, simply because the world presents me with the choices and pressures to do so, what would—what could—I do with all that extra time and energy, not to mention money? Read, write, hang out with my mum? See another part of the world? And, more importantly, who would I be? A happier, more relaxed person? The irony.

So, with the odds stacked completely against me, how do I even stand a chance of coming out on top of all this stuff? (How does anyone?)

I don’t believe the answer is to cut up my credit cards and get a passbook savings account, or to become a Luddite. The answer lies in cultivating awareness. By becoming aware of my thoughts and feelings, I can regain my power. Asking questions is paramount:

Will it give my life meaning? Make my life easier, better? Why do I really want it? Is it only because I am chasing a feeling? Or because I want to squelch one? What would happen if I didn’t buy it?

Failing this, I can always remind myself that almost everything material is optional.

About Lesh Karan

Lesh Karan is a former pharmacist turned writer. While she’s worn a few different work hats, including editing, food coaching and health writing, one thing has always remained consistent: harnessing words to help her process life. Learn more about Lesh at leshkaran.com.

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