What is a Healthy Relationship?

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A healthy relationship doesn't kill you. We're all going to leave here at some point, hopefully not by the hand of a boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, or spouse. People kill each other in relationships. You survive a healthy relationship.

Short of death, relationships can make you miserable. Feeling unable to communicate, treat each other with respect, and speak openly about thoughts and feelings can suck the life out of you. I talk to people all the time who willingly poke themselves in the eye in relationships and wonder why their eye hurts. In essence, here's the conversation.

How may I help you?

“Every time I... This happens and I can't take it anymore.”

Have you considered not doing...?


The butt-tensing silence you experience watching a horror movie when the person on screen separates from others and wanders down a dark, spooky hallway. Relationships can make us all feel lost. A healthy relationship is one in which you notice when you are drifting into unfamiliar territory, and self-correct before finding yourself on the wrong end of a chainsaw.

A healthy relationship encourages you to grow up and step into your responsibility. You can bitch, gripe, moan, and complain all you want. But if anything is wrong with your relationship or life, it is your responsibility to fix it—even if that means accepting the situation as it is, admitting defeat and seeking outside help, or exiting without leaving behind a wake of destruction.

A healthy relationship is not to be used to escape your circumstances. You can't avoid life and reality, both become crystal clear when you enter an intimate relationship with another human being. Once the honeymoon ends and you're both standing face to face with your respective mothers and fathers, the shit gets real. What started out feeling like the Tour de France can quickly morph into the Tour de Hell—in the best relationships. You will need to double down on every relationship skill you know to manage conflicts, remain respectful, and maintain your sanity.

A healthy relationship requires both partners to rise to the occasion and support each other through the letdown of “the real”, for real. You are not perfect. That's real. You're in a relationship with another person who is not perfect, for real. A healthy relationship is one in which you can laugh at the absurdity of your predicament and your life. A healthy relationship enables you to recognize and accept the difficulty involved in loving another person. You silly fool. Did you really believe you could? That's not your fault. We all believe we can love another, and many believe they can love another without loving themselves.

Healthy relationships are best when a little unhealthy—”unhealthy” as in not perfect. Sometimes we promote an outside appearance of health and inside the relationship is toxic. A healthy relationship is one in which appearances do not deceive.  

Healthy relationships result from both partners willingness to do the work—their work.


Why Does Someone Stay in an Abusive Relationship?-Domestic Violence Education Series

Confronting Faulty Thinking


Many men fail to identify and correct errors in their thinking. Because they don't allow others to examine their thinking or comment on their behavior, they often make the same mistakes over and over again. Isolation gives wings to insanity. Without new information and the ability to test reality, problems abound.

Men often find it difficult to describe with words their emotional reactions when their partners disappoint them or when they experience unfairness. The slightest hint of shame triggers some men to become abusive to hide their inadequacies and vulnerability. Some men are abusive to present themselves as strong and threatening rather than inadequate and weak. Strong and threatening are characteristics associated with manhood in our culture.

That's the problem. Often, in a vain effort to manage their image, men make things up, not only to avoid reality, but to carry on while remaining socially isolated. Here's an example: Recently, I talked to a young man about his inability to find and maintain employment.

“I’m a gangster,” he offered.

While he did have a criminal background, my intuition told me this man’s unemployment stemmed primarily from a learning disorder and a marijuana habit. His “gangster” label provided him with a socially acceptable way to mitigate a harsh reality. I also suspected the title unconsciously gratified him. He could avoid his unemployment problem without a severe threat to his identity. If he didn't look for work, or marginally performed and lost his job, he could blame it on being a gangster.

It’s important to see your complicity in the problems you experience. You can't change anything you cant see. Denial serves as a shock absorber, an important buffer between you and reality. Reality’s full force can flummox your ability to cope and leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

A gangster with no gun. A dope dealer with no dope. A pimp with no hoes. We all delude ourselves, perhaps not to this degree, but to varying degrees. It's important to understand how we do it in order to give ourselves the best possible chance to change. “I'll do it later,” “They don't like me,” and “I'm better under pressure,” are a few of the ways in which our thinking traps us in behavior patterns that block our objectives and diminish our self-esteem.

To avoid adding insight to injury, one has to take responsibility by also changing their behavior. It takes effort to lean into uncomfortable, unknown places and try something new. There's no secret to it. There's nothing deep about it. You are totally free to change both thinking and behavior. It has to be different before it can be better.


Who Can Be Affected by Domestic Violence?-Domestic Violence Education

Domestic violence affects us all regardless of race, sexual orientation, and religion. This video is for anyone seeking education about domestic violence. It offers tips on what to do if you suspect that you or a loved one are in an abusive relationship. 

SUBSCRIBE HERE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi_wu8p1Kcc3VxyV4NZ6TZA


Learning From Sitting


“Good morning, gentlemen. It's good to see everyone. Let's do five minutes of meditation,” I said as I walked into my domestic violence group.

“Let's begin.” I set the timer on my phone.

As I closed my eyes, my hearing sharpened. With every breath, I absorbed the sounds around me. I could hear shuffling in the room as each man settled into the exercise. Cars rolled by outside in the distance. My breathing coalesced with the other men's breathing like factory noise. Feet shifted on the floor, both in the room and outside as movement asserted itself on my awareness. Conversations beyond the walls disrupted quietude. I felt like every thought and feeling made noise entering and exiting my mind.

Gently, I herded my attention back to my breathing. Someone coughed. The wind blew, windows rattled, and dry leaves rustled outside. As my mind wandered I heard different sounds. I reminded myself to breathe. More sounds. I surrendered with each breath. Buzz, buzz, buzz brought the exercise to an end. What seemed like an eternity ended in five minutes.

“What was that like for you? What did you notice?" I asked the group.

“I felt sleepy,” one man replied, embarrassed. Another man  said, “I don't like meditation, it doesn't do anything.”

“You felt sleepy? What does that tell you?” I asked.

His eyes rolled up as he searched for an answer.

“You're tired,” another man replied.

“What would you like it to do?” I asked the other man.

“I would like to clear my mind and relax,” he said.

“I see. You would like to clear your mind and relax. That's interesting. So, because you can't clear your mind and relax, you feel like meditation has no value? What about learning how to sit with what's on your mind? What about noticing your thoughts and feelings, without clinging, or acting on them? Would that be valuable?” I asked.

The men mumbled.

“Meditation is not to clear your mind but, to teach you how to sit with and accept what's on your mind. The object is to notice and not cling to your thoughts. Relaxation is a byproduct.” I said.”

“What did you hear while meditating?” I asked.

“I heard cars,” one man said.

Another said, “People talking outside.”

“Yes, but what about internal sounds?” I asked.

“I kept trying to keep my mind from wandering,” a man said.

“How did you bring yourself back to your breathing?” I asked.

“I forced myself,” he replied.

“Our minds and bodies wander both during meditation and in real life. Be gentle with yourself and come back to your breathing.” I replied, trying not to sound like a monk from the TV show Kung Fu.”

“Did you notice the sounds? It got quite noisy. There were two kinds of sounds, external and internal. Did anyone notice their powerlessness over the noise? Lack of control is a type of suffering. Often, we struggle against our vulnerability and we try to fix it only to make our situation worse. Think about the reason you're here. A thought or feeling you could not tolerate compelled you to act which initiated a negative chain reaction. That's what meditation is for, to help you prevent acting on every thought or feeling you have.” I explained.

I said, “The word “compassion” means to sit with suffering. Not to make suffering go away, but to simply sit with it. Compassion also leads to happiness. The more you get in touch with your own suffering and the suffering of others, the happier you will be. Keep practicing.”


How to Fix Communication in a Relationship

How to Fix Communication in a Relationship

Even when we're not speaking we are communicating through facial expressions, body language, action, or inaction. Communication is not a choice. The only option is communication—constructive or destructive.


Back to the Future, in a Way


Traditionally, a psychotherapist secured an office, furnished it with a couch, desk, chair, telephone, flora, wall art, hung his shingle outside the door, and opened for business. Clients met with him face-to-face, established rapport, and explored psychological issues, while in the same room. That has been the standard practice in our profession.

Time and technology has changed everything. While we think technology will propel us into the future it has actually taken me back to the past when doctors made home visits. With a mouse click a client can meet privately with me in a secure virtual office online. Clients can discuss their concerns in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. It’s unnecessary to add additional time to their day driving through traffic, looking for parking, and feeding meters. The risk of getting mugged traveling to or from their therapist’s office at night while walking to their car or the nearest transit stop has been eliminated. Online sessions allow therapist to provide services to clients who, due to physical limitations, mild illnesses, or car problems, might find it difficult to visit an office.

I have a client with a two-hour commute one way to work. Add a conventional therapy session and it’s at least another hour added to his commute. A few weeks ago, in the Bay Area, on the same day, BART halted because a dog wandered onto the tracks. Someone fired shots on the 880 freeway and the Highway Patrol blocked traffic for hours during their investigation. Two Muni buses collided in San Francisco and snarled traffic. The Bay Area commute was a mess. Occurrences like those are common. Bay Area traffic is a nightmare. Anyone living in urban areas must contend with additional stress.

I have another client, a single woman nursing a baby. Conventional therapy for her means arranging childcare. It’s very convenient and stress-relieving for her to attend online sessions with her child. She is less distracted by thoughts about her baby's welfare during sessions even though he fusses, feeds and demands attention. She manages all of that easily with greater peace of mind.  

Historically, doctors would visit patients at their homes. Home visits allowed doctors to become better acquainted with patients, observe their lifestyles, and form stronger relationships. Home visits helped doctors build trust with patients. Online psychotherapy is a throwback to yesteryear.

As an online practitioner I consider it a privilege to offer my professional services to anyone in the state of California with a laptop, tablet, or cell phone and internet connection. Satisfying more of my clients needs by meeting online enables me to provide more value by conserving their time and reducing their stress level.

Online psychotherapy is relatively new, but just because something has yet to become popular doesn't mean it’s ineffective. The most important consideration is that your therapist is licensed, skilled, and available. If that's the case then online psychotherapy can work for you.

Power and Control


For years I have used the Duluth Power and Control Wheel to understand and teach domestic violence prevention. I have also used the Equality Wheel from the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence to help men learn alternatives to destructive power and control in relationships. In this article I combined the two and discuss them in an effort to explain how to reduce intimate partner violence and improve relationships.

What is Power?

Everyone wants influence over other people. In relationships perceptions of power are critical to understand. We do not have the option of not using power. We only have options to use power destructively or productively. Exercising influence or control is one of the basic human needs. The ability to meaningfully influence important events and people around us is necessary for our a sense of well-being and personal effectiveness. Exercising personal power is crucial to how you feel about yourself. High power is often a goal that people strive for. Without some sense of agency in your interpersonal relationships, you would soon feel worthless as a person.

In interpersonal relationships power is a property of the social relationship rather than a quality of the individual. Your dependence on another person is predicated on the importance of the goals the other can influence. If there are other avenues available to accomplish your goals, you will be less dependent on another person. If you want more power, it becomes important to increase the other person’s dependency on you. One way to reduce power others have over you is to change your goals or what you want from them.

It’s easy to confuse conversational control with power; they are not the same thing. One person may dominate the conversation, but if you refuse to cooperate, their power is nullified. People who look the most powerful to outsiders are often less powerful than they appear. You can’t tell from looking without examining the dynamics of the relationship.

Often during conflicts each person firmly believes that the other person has more power. Many problems result in this situation because the image people have of their power (and others) is unrealistic. Conflicts escalate if you or the other person believes you are in the low-power position.

Power Denial

When people view power as negative they may deny that they have power.

“I'm not myself when I drink.”

“I can't help it. I told you I had a temper.”

“I did not say that.”

“I forgot I said that.”

“People are always bothering me too much! Oh, I'm not talking about you…”

“I'm used to being treated unfairly by others…”

Everyone has some power.

Power Currencies:

Power currencies are basically things that people find valuable to use in relationships to garner influence, status, and power. Here’s a partial list:

Reward, coercion, expertise, threats, promises, persuasion, reinforcement control, information control, exploitation, manipulation, competition, special skills and abilities, personal attractiveness, likeability, control over rewards/or punishments, rank, persuasion, control, surrender.

People try to spend currency that is not valued in a particular relationship and, when they do, problems arise. Power depends on having currencies that other people need. Once a relationship deteriorates, power concerns increase.

Destructive power vs. constructive power

Destructive Power:

Destructive power is power used over or against someone. Its effectiveness derives from competition and dominance. Long-term it is destructive to the relationship, ultimately leading to relationship termination. What follows are examples of destructive power currencies from the Power and Control Wheel:  

Intimidation: Merriam-Webster: to make timid or fearful: Frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats.

Making your relationship partner afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures. Smashing things. Destroying her property. Abusing pets. Displaying weapons.

Many of us grew up in households with parents who practiced corporal punishment. “Do I need to give you something to cry about? Or Do I need to fix your face? Were common refrains heard in my household throughout my childhood. They were effective because the threat of getting an ass whipping always loomed in the background whenever my father disciplined me during my childhood. That's intimidation.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice.

Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games. Humiliating her. Making her feel guilty. Here are some examples: “You didn't do that right. What's wrong with you? You're always nagging me I just go home from work. I don't want to hear that right now.”

Isolation: Humans are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. When we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of emotional support and friendship can increase our anxiety and hinder our coping ability.

Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes. Limiting her outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions. “I don't like your friend Sandra. She always has something to say about our relationship. I really don't like you talking to her. I don't want you to invite her over here. I don't like her.”

Minimization, Denial, Blame: Minimizing means downplaying the severity and effects of one's abusive behavior: Denying means pretending the abuse never happened:  Blaming means making someone else responsible for your abusive behavior:

Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying she caused it. “That's no big deal. Why are you still on that? If you hadn't got in my business, I would not have had to put my hands on you. You know how my temper is.”

Using Children: Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away.

“Is your mother seeing anyone? Are there any men coming to the house?”

Economic Abuse: Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money. Giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income.

“I started working under the table so I could avoid child support.” That's a common statement I hear men make who don't understand economic abuse. Also living with a woman and waiting on her check—money that is not theirs—each month.

Male Privilege: Treating her like a servant; making all the big decisions. Acting like the “master of the castle,” being the one to define men’s and women’s roles. Leaving the house whenever they want, thereby shirking household responsibilities such as chores and childcare, leaving their partners to pick up the slack. Squandering the household income on vice.

Coercion and Threats: Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, or to report her to welfare. Making her drop charges against you. Making her do illegal things. Similar to intimidation, threatening to leave the relationship if certain conditions are not met. Threatening violence when upset in an effort to get their own way.

Power sickness

Power sickness resides at both ends of the power spectrum. People with high power can begin to abuse the people around them who they perceive have less power than them. And people in power down positions can begin to resist more forcefully leading to acts of violence and terrorism. In severe, ongoing conflicts both parties perceive that they have low power, and they continually make moves to increase their power at the other’s expense. This can make each person feel justified to use dirty tricks. Lower-power parties will sometimes destroy a relationship as the ultimate move to rebalance power. The more you struggle against someone the less power you will have over them.

Constructive Power:


Constructive power, on the other hand, is power used with the other person to support their rights and needs and to create mutually beneficial outcomes. Here are some examples from the Equality Wheel:

Non-Threatening Behavior: Talking and acting so that she feels safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things.

Respect: Listening to her non-judgmentally. Being emotionally affirming and understanding. Valuing her opinions.

Trust and Support: Supporting her goals in life. Respecting her right to her own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions.

Honesty and Accountability: Accepting responsibility for self. Acknowledging past use of violence. Admitting being wrong. Communicating openly and truthfully.

Responsible Parenting: Sharing parental responsibilities. Being a positive, nonviolent role model for the children.

Shared Responsibility: Mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work. Making family decisions together.

Economic Partnership: Making money decisions together. Making sure both partners benefit from financial arrangements.

Negotiation and Fairness: Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict. Accepting changes. Being willing to compromise.

Realigning Power Balances

Calm persistence and active engagement are necessary to manage and or repair power imbalances. During a conflict, the most powerful party places the responsibility for keeping the peace on the least powerful party. Both parties need to practice restraint. Focus on interdependence and if you are the more powerful make the effort to empower the less-powerful. That can only be accomplished if you have some awareness of your position. Also work to shift the conversation to the relationship between you and your conflict partner and discuss the process used to manage power and conflicts.


You have more power than you think. Your perception and understanding about how to recognize and use power constructively can have a dramatic effect on your relationships. There are many different power currencies you can talk to your partner about and experiment with to create a more satisfying relationship. Managing power imbalances in relationships is an ongoing process, and one that can be satisfying due to its ability to help you maintain meaningful relationships.

Toxic Masculinity


In a statement on Tuesday, Harvey Weinstein’s spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister said: “Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. He will not be available for further comments, as he is taking the time to focus on his family, on getting counseling and rebuilding his life.”

What? “Never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Taking the time to focus on his family, on getting counseling and rebuilding his life?” Something smells foul.

Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, R. Kelly, Tiger Woods, Ray Rice, Kevin Hart, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, Bill O'Reilly, Joe Mixon, Roger Ailes, and now Harvey Weinstein. The latest episode of Toxic Masculinity begins with sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein which include harassing a woman employee, cornering her in a restaurant, and jerking off in front of her. When the story broke, I felt embarrassed and shied away from thinking about another man doing something cringe-worthy. It’s challenging enough being a man. I feared being judged for another man’s dumb, abusive, criminal behavior.

Once I heard the sexual harassment allegations, I concluded he was a sex offender. Suffice it to say, he’s no beginner. His behavior would be funny if it wasn't so serious. I can hear a stand-up comedian, “I didn't say ‘bonus,’ I said ‘boner’.”

Mr. Weinstein found himself consumed by behavior he could not control like a passenger on a train which had blown past the pleasure station long ago. Obsession and compulsion are destructive forces in his life, racing down the rails, destroying everything in its path. He now finds himself hanging on for dear life to his career, his wife, and, ultimately, his freedom.    

Toxic masculinity is a problem derived from unhappiness and manifested by sexual conquests, narcissism, grandiosity, aggression, and power which are poisonous to the host and others they come into contact with. We have a tendency to live what we believe. Harvey Weinstein behaved in ways that showed disrespect for women, his wedding vows, and his job. As indicated by his using women to gratify himself, reduce shame and guilt, and to relieve unhappiness. He lived behind a carefully constructed mask that allowed him to behave monstrously.

Bad things happen when men cultivate toxic masculinity. On one end of the spectrum, they believe women are an extension of themselves, feeling the same way they do, particularly about sex. On the other end of the spectrum, they don’t think about women at all. Why should they? They see themselves as all-powerful and if they possess money and status, so do others around them, including their victims. Toxic masculinity forces men to behave as stereotypes, motivating many to break the law.

It can also create an opportunity for men to talk to other men about our miseducation and its disastrous consequences on our lives and the lives of those around us. As I explain to the men in my domestic violence group, there is no such thing as a first offender. You are in this group for what you got caught for. What about the numerous things you did that you didn't get caught for? Harvey Weinstein’s now facing three additional rape allegations. Toxic masculinity will catch up with you.

Misguided men, who have fallen victim to our culture’s more pernicious version of manhood, have lowered the bar so much, have behaved so poorly, some women are trying to be men. With the absence of suitable men, women pleasure themselves, each other, raise children willingly alone—and have been doing it on their own terms for years. These characters have also provided the well-meaning man with great opportunities to be a “good man.” While toxic masculinity narrowly defines men, stripping them of the qualities that make men great—confidence, kindness, honesty, integrity, and courage—the responsible, mature man makes an effort to rise above it by cultivating empathy for others. Don't cheat on your partner. Avoid promiscuity. Accept no for an answer. Don't act like a sex offender. Don’t drop anything in anyone’s drink. Don't break the law. Use anger constructively. Have some integrity. Get in touch with your misogyny. Work hard. Cultivate gratitude. How could one possibly fail at being a good man? Even if you have transgressed, who among us will cast the first stone?  

This is a great time to be a man. The world needs good men. Real men are around, rarely grabbing headlines, but they do exist.


On Domestic Violence

         Domestic Violence

         Domestic Violence

When it comes to talking to men about violence in general and violence against women, I prefer an unconventional approach. I encourage men to discuss how good violence feels. Before you start balking, gasping, and sputtering allow me to explain. Some people reading this have never been slapped, punched, kicked, whipped or choked. Good for you. However, there are many men who experienced violence as children, when they were least able to overcome its devastating consequences. Men who have been hit feel differently about hitting than men who have not been hit. Many psychologically wounded men walk around oblivious to how their previous violent experiences have changed their attitudes and behavior. They are often more likely to use violence against women when frustrated or angry.

Violence is pervasive. Our society is violent. The world is violent. Violence is in our DNA. While there have always been women warriors—and women do get arrested for domestic violence—primarily men send women to the hospital or the graveyard. When it comes to violence, we like watching it. We like performing it. Violence is orgasmic. If men didn't find it enjoyable on some level, we wouldn't constantly commit acts of violence all over the world.

Violence is deeply gratifying. We don't like the consequences, but we relish the act. It changes things both externally and internally. Externally violence alters the victim’s behavior. Internally violence relieves internal stress. It works quickly and effectively. It’s difficult for a man to unlearn the powerful tension release, the instant satisfaction, and the strong reinforcement that comes with violent acts.

Men don't really know how to talk about our love affair with violence. It's not socially acceptable. We don't have any problem talking about the latest example of violence we see in the news, social media or our neighborhoods. But our own propensity for violence mutes us. We pretend that it's someone else. We dawn the good guy mask and disavow our culpability in the violence epidemic engulfing the planet. Because we fail to allow ourselves to discuss it, we also fail to control it. Social acceptance is not recovery. We must begin with the obvious fact that we enjoy violence and give ourselves the freedom to explore what it does for us if we ever intend to meet those needs without resorting to violence.

If we're not talking about how we really feel about violence, what are we talking about? Before you say, “Not me. I don’t like violence.” I ask: What about the porn? What about the video games? What about the horror movies? What about the NFL? The President recently stated professional football was too soft. While on the campaign trail, prior to becoming president, he bragged about grabbing women by the crotch. The man’s statements and behavior, as he sits in the highest office in the land, has normalized violence. His admission makes violence against women as American as lynchings and police shootings.

Freedom comes from not driving problems underground.  Our ambivalence about violence needs to be explored. There is a tendency to avoid the shadows, fearing that if we address it, it will lead to more violence. We pretend that the shadows have no value. Shadows provide protection. Shadows serve as resting places. Predators ambush from shadows. Without exploring the shadows, we can’t hope to overcome our destructiveness. By fearlessly examining our ambivalence about violence, we can identify opportunities to take personal responsibility and reduce violence. Can we acknowledge our propensity for violence and stop running around like wolves in sheep's clothing? If we can't accept it, we can't change it. The time has come for us to change it.



               The 12-Steps

               The 12-Steps

When I first began attending 12-Step meetings, I heard, “Get a sponsor and work the steps.” I didn’t know what they were talking about. One evening, while standing around after a meeting a man walked up to me and asked, “Do you have a sponsor?” I said no and he offered his services. I had no idea what sponsorship entailed or what his role would be in my life. Like most social situations I found myself in at that time, I wanted to fit in, so I agreed.

Because I didn't understand what sponsorship meant, he remained my ornamental sponsor for quite some time. It took dating a woman in the fellowship before I got a clue. When I found myself in an embarrassing, painful, public break-up with a popular woman who processed her feelings about me and our breakup by putting me “on blast” in meetings, I began to call my sponsor more frequently. Hurt, angry, and resentful I started reading the literature and going to additional meetings. Having committed to 12-Step recovery, I refused to leave the program. Together, my sponsor and I worked up to the fifth step. At that point, he rekindled a relationship, got married, and moved away.

Enter my second and current sponsor. By that time, I realized the importance of step work and I wanted to complete the process I started. Spiritual smugness felt too good to stop working the steps. My new high became walking into meetings and comparing myself to others who were not working the steps. That downward comparison became my new fix. I chose my next sponsor after observing him in meetings. He possessed numerous qualities that made him ideal for me, even if I didn’t know it at the time. He seemed to lack anger, hostility, and authoritarianism.  He appeared calm and relaxed which attracted me because I never felt safe around angry, hostile authority figures.

Like any addict, I am recovering from turning to drugs rather than people when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. I'm recovering from immense shame which makes me fear intimacy. I often projected my problems onto women, blaming them for my internal discord.  As my recovery progressed awareness shed light on my problems with male role models. I began to recognize misinformation I received from men and society about masculinity and manhood. Through my relationship with my sponsor, I have been able to not only explore my emotional life, but take responsibility for it, remain drug-free, and cultivate happiness.

Somehow recovering addicts before me discovered an effective way to recover from trauma. I always found myself hurt by the people I was in relationships with. Addicts understood recovering people would need to turn to the very thing that may have harmed them—relationships—in order to heal. From trial, error, and ingenuity they created sponsorship.

As I progress through recovery and the 12-Steps, my relationship with my sponsor deepens. Working with him, exploring my emotional life, improves all my relationships. As we learn from our literature “we don’t heal in isolation.” Through sponsorship, I practice honesty, open-mindedness, courage, willingness, and vulnerability. Sponsorship taught me how to trust myself and others.

When men stop fronting on each other, drop their masks, and share their emotional lives with each other they develop intimacy. Many men never get that opportunity and later end up placing too much weight on women to care for them emotionally. With no men to bond with and placing too much emotional weight on women, they lose.

Last week, while sitting on a bench talking to my sponsee, I saw my sponsor in the distance, walking to his car. I felt emotional as I thought about how long he and I have worked together, how much I have learned about myself, and how much my heart has expanded due to our relationship. When anyone complains about their relationships, I remain silent. When others lament about unhappiness, I yield the floor. When someone gripes about being lonely, I stand down. Today, those are not my issues. Through sponsorship, I have been able to improve mutual satisfaction in all my relationships. Considering my sponsor’s role in my recovery, I felt myself getting emotional. My eyes began to well up and my heart felt full as I watched him walk away. I believe in the therapeutic value of one addict helping another.

The Problem with the Self-help Industry

                      Self-help books sometimes don't help. 

                      Self-help books sometimes don't help. 

“If you want the habit of gratitude to grace your life, it is essential that you, like Tom Chappell, develop the belief that you are here on earth to fulfill some purpose that only you can offer to the world. You are amazingly rare, totally nonreplicable individual with talents and gifts that the world anxiously needs. The more that you experience the truth of your uniqueness and beauty, the more you will feel gratitude for your particular gifts and the more you will be able to deliver those gifts.”

                                Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life

                                                                                                                  --M.J. Ryan p. 81-82

When I read this I had to pause and think about what it meant and if it was actually true for me.

There is a basic problem with the advice doled out by most authors of self-help books. It's the notion that in order to be happy or to help yourself you have to believe that you are special. Do I really need to be “amazingly rare, totally nonreplicable with talents and gifts the world anxiously needs?” Am I unique? Am I beautiful?

I would like to believe that, but is that really true? Isn't the belief that I'm special or that I need to be special the problem? No one else on the entire planet could possibly do whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing if I weren't so busy reading self-help books? I would feel better if I just cleaned up behind myself rather than nurturing the narcissistic fantasy that I'm special and, as such, someone else will clean up after me.

Will reading a self-help book miraculously transform me into the Golden Child? What happens when one discovers they are not unique? Life has a way of pulling your “Special Card.”

Humpty Dumpty was special. Where did he sit? On a wall above others. What kind of fall did he have? A great fall. He didn't roll off a curb. Who tried to put him back together again? All the of  King's horses and all of the King's men. He had status. What happened? They could not put him together again. What's the moral of this story? Special people can't be put back together.

Improving yourself does not require you to be special. Self-improvement rarely comes down to talent. Many people have talent and never accomplish much. What's most important is that we get started, that we practice, and work hard at the changes we seek. The keys are to remain calmly persistent and actively engaged in the execution of your plan. There are no special skills or unique talents required. Just real commitment.


Improve Your Relationships with Compliments

IMG_0894 Compliment.jpg

There is a powerful way to improve your relationships. It is not a tactic. A single tactic will not work. In fact, it may make your situation worse because most people can sense insincerity. Without commitment the minute you experience frustration you will abandon the effort to change. This is an attitude and behavior change I'm inviting you to try for yourself. So what am I suggesting? If you want to improve your relationships, increase happiness, and lift self-esteem, learn to give compliments.

Depending on where you're from and what your previous relationships have been like this may prove to be quite challenging. If you come from a family that did not express or provide praise it may feel awkward for you to give and receive compliments freely. I have even had people say that it felt like ass kissing to give someone a compliment. Your history may be such that no one was around to notice and provide you with adequate praise for the things you did. If that was your experience, you very well could be walking around feeling invalidated and insecure simply from receiving insufficient positive attention growing up. You may even find yourself compensating for that by seeking negative attention. As human beings, if we can't get positive attention, negative attention will do.

Praise or positive attention is one major contributor to good mental health. It acknowledges you and reinforces your felt sense of security. I used the term “felt sense of security” here to emphasize the difference between being secure and feeling secure. To compliment someone indicates that you noticed and feel grateful for something they have done. Gratitude must be cultivated to the point of awareness in order for one to compliment another. Well-being is comprised of gratitude. Feeling secure, grateful, and happy all contribute to increased self-esteem.

The opposite of praise is criticism. The opposite of a compliment is an insult. Nothing says abuse like criticism and insults. I'm suggesting that you learn to give what you may so desperately need, more than every now and then: a pat on the back. Learning to give sincere, specific praise to yourself and others is a tide that lifts all boats. By cultivating an attitude of gratitude for the little things, you become aware that gratitude connects you to life and living. It also attracts people to you because they get from you what we all desperately need: positive attention.

One of the first things that lead to our relationships going bad is our inability to see and acknowledge the good that others do. We can only see their mistakes and shortcomings. This happens not only with our view of others but also with our view of ourselves.

Changing your attitude and behavior doesn't cost you anything but time and effort. A change like this does not require any special talent, no merchandise, no skill. The only requirements are willingness and practice. When practiced on yourself it's considered self-soothing and when provided to others it called a compliment. No matter what moniker you use, compliments reduce suffering and serve as an antidote to insecurity and abuse.



I've been trying not to panic, to not look down, to not allow myself to consider how vulnerable I am to failure. What I'm attempting to achieve may not work and I've been afraid to think about it.

I put on a happy face, but deep down inside a little voice stalks me, whispering, “You're not going to make it.” I try to quiet it to no avail. I have to admit, I'm terrified of failing.

I'm ashamed to admit that although I feel the warm breath of failure breathing down my neck I often don't do the things necessary to prevent failure. Sometimes, I freeze. Oh, I hide it well, even from myself, but the reality is I don't always behave in my best interest.

It's not difficult to feel like a failure. It comes naturally. I compare myself to accomplished people, make an upward comparison, and feel terrible about myself. Observe thirty-year-olds worth millions, doing all the things I dream about doing, and I come away drowning in envy. Sometimes I just want to give up.

I have no desire to kill myself, but I do long to stop propping myself up. I want to quit running from how I feel and what I really think. A Herculean effort is required to distract me from my fears. Keeping doubt at bay saps my strength. My own dark thoughts and feelings frighten me, so I eat, I sleep, I work out, I meditate, attend meetings, avoid being an ass-hole, motivate others, pretend I'm fearless, wake up, and do it again.

Sometimes it feels hollow. It's insufficient because it's all done in the service of avoidance. I do it to avoid experiencing the pain and misery of being me. Freedom can only be achieved through complete and total surrender and acceptance of who I am and of all of my thoughts and feelings.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the aforementioned coping skills don't work, they prevent me from cowering to my fears and they also have bought me time to get to this place where I can lay pen to paper and actually describe what it's really like to be me. Coping skills help me face reality. The unvarnished truth about how I feel and that which I am both afraid and ashamed of.

We all have doubt, especially if you are taking risks, trying to create, and change. Understanding self-doubt is important. It has meaning, and It is worth exploring. It is a natural part of not only the change process but also of being human. Left unaddressed self-doubt can make you feel bad and rob you of your creative energy. By exploring self-doubt you can, reduce internal stress, and remain on the path to your goals.In that way, it can be productive.

If self-doubt is holding you back get some help.


No Inspiration


This morning I woke up, walked downstairs, and opened the front and back doors to my house. Cool fresh air felt good as it entered my nostrils and lungs. I lit some black cherry incense and placed it in the flower pot outside my back door. As the scent wafted up inviting me to meditate, I cracked open my inspirational readings, hoping to discover a passage or phrase to write about. But today nothing I read moved me.  

I smiled realizing inspiration wasn't necessary. I didn't have to rely on inspiration, I didn't have to “feel like it” to write. Liberation filled me as I realized I possessed everything needed to write. On this day, searching for inspiration was unnecessary. My daily writing routine was enough. I didn't need a muse. All I needed was to put pen to paper, not worry about being profound or clever, and just write.

Satisfaction, joy, and triumph entered my awareness. My pen took off.  I simply allowed myself to describe what was happening around me and my experience in the moment: what you're reading now.

The takeaway: don't wait to feel inspired. You may never feel it. Start anyway and let starting invite inspiration. Make starting the goal, not inspiration. Start slowly. Start where you are. Start without knowing what will happen. Just start.

What are you waiting for?

Conflict: Do I Need to Check...