Healing Requires Holding Your Feet to the Fire When the Heat Is Turned Up

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Seventy-One

Most folks are tired of the COVID pandemic with predictions of a third epidemic wave this Fall. Everybody has an opinion about the value a mask for protection. Over 200 thousand Americans are dead and millions are left without work waiting for the House, the Senate and the President to decide on much needed stimulus help. Opinions about police brutalizing African Americans are on the front burner of social concerns. Hurricanes devastate. There is a 26th named storm promising to become a hurricane and threatening Bermuda later this week. Do you ever wonder why the people of Lake Charles, La are so unlucky? Just doesn’t seem humane. Devastation from wild fires are off the charts in western United States with the landscape marred for the rest of this generation’s lifetime. The impact of global warming, though still disputed, has played havoc not only in our country but around the world. Then, in two weeks, there’s the election. Whether you vote Republican or Democrat, think of the millions of dollars spent trying to help you and I make up our mind. So much at stake! So much drama! So much tension and stress! Certainly, the heat is turned up and each of us are challenged to hold our feet to the fire in order to simply stay the course, be authentic to ourselves, be present to make decisions that are true to the heart from a place of poise and calm. 

Addicts in recovery are uniquely qualified to offer help to society at large with this important life skill. Every addict in recovery has needed to learn how to be present in the face of discomfort and desire to numb out with their drug of choice. Without learning to be present, addicts become distracted to a point of being burned in the fire of addictive demand. They have either been consumed by the fire of craving or they have been burnt enough that they have learned to stay the course and sit with discomfort in order to be present. This is key!

In the midst of pressure and feeling pulled apart, enlightenment comes to one who is able remain present and to not give in to distraction. This requires staying power. As stress builds in your life, you will need to cultivate staying power in the face of distraction, discomfort and urges to do something. 

Recovering addicts know this. No one is perfect at it. Yet, addicts are baptized during beginning days of recovery to “take one day at a time”. This is an emphasis on being present. 

Staying present in the condition of unrest or discomfort is a lot like contacting poison ivy. As a young boy I was fishing with friends when I needed to relieve myself. I made the mistake of doing so in a poison ivy patch and got poison ivy rash all over unmentionable parts of my body! When I went to the doctor he gave me a shot and told me not to scratch. Though young I looked at him and said, “are you kidding me”! The itch of poison ivy was absolutely dominating every inch of my body. Yet, he told me that if I scratched it would only spread to other parts of my body. It was summertime and it was humid and hot. Don’t you think a little boy with unlucky results would want to scratch the itch of poison ivy all day and all night? I did and the poison ivy only got worse! Eventually, the shot kicked in and helped me work through my dilemma. Of course, thereon, when fishing I learned to look for an outhouse to avoid a repeat of a bad memory. 

This is what staying present when distracted with discomfort in a difficult situation is like. We don’t like feeling the insecurity in the moment of unknown. For addicts, the need to know — what to do next or how to keep someone in their life- etc can become like an itch with an obsession to resolve. There’s a desire to scratch or do whatever to get away from the overwhelming hurt, anxiety or fear that has been created from addictive behavior. Sex addicts will go to inpatient treatment, tell their partners whatever they want to hear, desperately trying to scratch the itch that comes in the form of losing their partner which they do not want to live without. Promises are made that they are unable to fulfill because the itch is just that bad. 

When the itch or the pain is not bad enough, life becomes like a game. People live habitually numbing out from difficult feelings and situations. Distraction and avoidance of trouble and hardship are easily navigated in the course of life. There is developed a propensity to always be somewhere else than where you are. Yet, life is a mixture of highs and lows, victory and defeat, bitter and sweet. Like a tapestry, these experiences are woven together. It takes courage to sit with the itch, not scratch but be present to your own wisdom about life. 

Most people won’t practice sitting with the itch until crisis, trauma and serious pain require it. When the shit hits the fan people begin to figure out what it means to be in the present moment. Someone you care about is estranged from you even though you have done everything you know to make things right. It is easy to get stuck trying to force reconciliation with efforts that backfire in your face. Sitting with the discomfort of being misunderstood requires that you not scratch the itch. When you do this the wisdom that you need to embrace will come to you. 

Being furloughed from your job because of COVID cutback triggers low self-esteem. Not scratching the itch by numbing out with your drug of choice requires that you remain present so that you can develop a sense of clear awareness about what is happening. To do this you must stay the course and avoid the voices that urge you to move away from your mind and distract yourself with addictive behavior. 

There are so many ways that you can try to scratch when you need to “stay” and be present in the moment of painful experience. 

Thirty years ago I was deep in struggle with the dregs of dark depression. For a while I could not function. Working through the labyrinth of confusion, I became desperately dependent upon two people who became the greatest friends I have had in all of my life. When I moved my family to another state, they took their family and moved with us. These two people rescued me from self-harm on two occasions. From the illness of my major depression, I developed an extreme dependency upon these friends that became very unhealthy for both parties. I was hooked and stuck without knowledge or strength to do anything about it. When I thought to be present I could not think outside the box of my dependency upon these two. The wife attended a codependency intensive workshop during one weekend. When completed she communicated that she and her family were so enmeshed with my illness that her only way of detaching would be to end the relationship with me and my family forever. So she did. This was over 30 years ago! I have not heard from them sense. It was the greatest challenge in my recovery to honor that boundary. Yet, in the doing I was forced to return to my present self. Over the years I have excavated the wisdom needed to navigate the loss and deepen personal awareness and reliance upon healthy relational alternatives to unhealthy dependence. While I still treasure these two people in my life, I have experienced the healing that comes from holding my feet to the fire when the heat of detachment was necessary to being present to create a more balanced life.

In order for you to be present when you are stuck in the midst of turmoil and stress, you have to want to heal. There has to be a willingness to connect with your own strength, confidence and wisdom rather than going for the release that comes with distraction or numbing out. When you go inward with your own self-absorption you will create terrible suffering and your world will become more threatening. Here are a few helpful tools to assist you to be present to your own enlightenment:

1. Resist Scratching the Itch

Scratching will make it worse. Ruminating about a situation where you did not get your needs met will enlarge the itch and urge to control what you cannot-other people’s actions or your past response. Being present will help you let go and live in the now. 

2. Recognize when you have been hooked

Nothing changes until it is real. So often when something is not right you will keep trying to control what you cannot, other’s perception or behavior over and again. As long as you are stuck, you will only make the ball of yarn a bigger mess. You have to recognize it is time to let go and come home to your own presence.

3. Preserve calm and poise with presence

Sitting with the reality of uncomfortable feelings will create a space of peace and calm within in the center of stress and turmoil. Not at first. Yet, when you bring yourself back to the present moment you begin to realize that your thoughts and feelings are like clouds in the sky and not who you are. With conditioning- simply bringing yourself back when you are distracted, you will become calm.

4. Create resolution

Pressure and stress are outside of you. They are not who you are. Be willing to acknowledge what is happening. When distracted and struggling to be present, cultivate kindness, friendliness and warmth toward yourself. It will soften your heart. It will transform arrogance into humility.

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