Simplistic Solutions

Just pray about it.

I did pray about it, hundreds of times, but my wife still had breast cancer. I’m not making that up. Maybe God was mad at me. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith.

Maybe it was more complicated than that.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life. Most of them I cannot remember. Some of them I’ve tried to forget. Many of us have been in churches and heard messages on stress, relationships and spirituality that offered solutions to our deepest pains. If we are honest with ourselves, however, we have to admit that most of the proposed wonder-cures never worked. Other people looked so happy and whole and we were left wondering if God hated us, or we were too sinful to be helped. Did everyone else get over their abuse and shame and horrendous childhood so quickly?

What is wrong with me?

I recently had an argument with a minister about sermons. Most of the ones I have heard don’t seem to play out in the real world. It seems easy on Saturday night to prepare three points on ‘how to fix your marriage or ‘how to quit sinning’. On Sunday he delivered the message, felt good about it, was complimented for it… but did it really change anything?

Really?

Many of us are discovering is that there are fewer easy solutions than we once imagined. People on stages, not just religious stages, love to offer half-baked solutions to hurting people who are suffering on a level that most of those hired guns cannot imagine. How many of us were sexually abused, molested, neglected, tainted, or damaged too deep for a quick cure? How often have we sat in church or tuned into Oprah or Phil only to be left feeling worse because we cannot get on board in less than an hour?

I remember watching the Cosby Show years ago. Every problem was wrapped up in twenty-two minutes. I vividly remember one episode where one of the perfect children decided to start drinking. Seven minutes later, hugging Bill on the couch, they promised they would stop. To this day I hate sweaters.

Then Roseanne came out. Now there was a family I could relate to. Life in that household was messy. Why did it feel so much more real?

The solutions to the problems we face are harder than we usually wish to acknowledge. Your issues can rarely be wrapped up in twenty-two minutes. Trite sermons and superstar speakers only reinforce the fact that most of us will only commit to half measures both in prescribing the cure and dealing with it. Foundational transformation takes years of pain and work. Yes work. You probably need to go deeper and darker than most of us are willing to go. You probably need to confess things that few of us are willing to confess. You need to open up a big can of worms.

Think I’m being dramatic? I interviewed a pastor once who said this, “I tell people that God forgives them and they need to forgive themselves, but how the hell do you do that? It’s not as easy as you think. What, should I pretend their shit never happened? I preach every week that change is easy and I pretend. I’m tired of glib answers.”

Talking about religion is usually not a great idea. The list of people who are going to tune me in about my lack of faith or understanding about their religious dynamic is probably long and heated. So let me tell you straight out – I’m not talking about your pastor or priest, or your church or healing center. I’m talking about someone else’s. Your pastor is a great counselor, it’s just the other ones that have 4-7 years of divinity school and two classes on counseling (neither of which is based on evidence-based practices). I know many religious leaders are amazing. I know I am speaking in generalities, I usually do.

Many of us who do this professionally have been shocked and saddened by clients who have been told to “just pray about it” when they told their religious practitioner that they had been raped or molested or (insert issue here). I have also been told, more times than I care to remember, that my client was unsure about seeing me because they wanted to see a ‘Christian counselor’ and were worried that I would undermine their beliefs. I am a person of faith, but because I do not work for a Christian counseling service and choose not to declare my personal beliefs, apparently some people think I will be tempted to drag them over to the dark side. The simple fact is that many counsellors/psychologists/psychiatrists are persons of faith, and those who are not have absolutely no interest in changing someone’s religious belief system unless they are fond of sacrificing chickens in my office.

I am not against Christian counsellors or even ministers helping people in need. I have a problem with anyone setting up vulnerable and fragile people for failure. I take issue with those who would, usually out of ignorance or prejudice, flippantly throw out half-baked solutions that leave wounded people feeling useless or worthless.

Not every issue can be solved in one session or with one act of faith. If you believe God can heal you I have absolutely no issue with that.

If God chooses not to, however, that’s where I come in.

Why Most Radical Change Is Bogus

Have you ever promised yourself that you would get in shape? Ever made a new Year’s Resolution that you couldn’t keep? Have you ever tried to make a radical change in your life? Ever been on a crash diet?

Don’t even bother. The likelihood that radical change will last is so low that if I showed you the statistics on dieting you would order a pizza. Real change rarely happens all at once, and when it does it is almost always because you have been trying and fretting and hoping and failing at it for so long that you are ready. You hurt so much and for so long that you have to change.

With few exceptions the majority of us wildly overestimate our ability to make significant change over a short period of time. Real change is incredibly hard and ordinarily demands months and years of work. Most of us do not get healed over night. I am not denigrating those of you who may claim supernatural relief but for most of us God does not choose to deliver us from our ADHD, or our abuse, or our mental issues. The vast majority of us can not claim fire from heaven, or legs regrown, or our malignant tumor disappearing. For some reason we must do it for ourselves or it isn’t going to get done.

We all want monumental change and we want it yesterday. Unfortunately, however, change that dramatic is often artificial and impossible to maintain. Ask any spouse who has decided to call it quits only to be bombarded by promises from their estranged spouse that, in spite of nothing happening for decades, they have totally changed overnight.

I also believe in the tooth fairy.

As a counselor I regularly meet clients who brag that they are radically redefining themselves virtually overnight. In just a few days they have stopped smoking, started working out, become a vegetarian, stopped self-medicating, got religion, and are going to become a counselor. In my business we call this a “red flag”. Such change rarely lasts. These people have the best of intentions and are incredibly dedicated, almost too dedicated. They have not considered the cost, or the fact that real change must be long-lasting. Authentic growth requires an alteration in lifestyle and the development of new coping mechanisms. In order for growth to become permanent you need to fundamentally change the way you think.

Most of us have tried for years to ‘fix’ our lives. We have tried everything and usually failed. That’s perfectly fine. Most of us, myself included, have tried to do the best we could with the wisdom and coping skills we had. We were told by people who should know that this quick fix, that power diet, that ridiculous philosophy or flavor of the week guru would magically give us what we have so desired and sought in vain for so long. We have been so desperate that we were willing to try anything, no matter how preposterous.

Unfortunately your good intentions are meaningless. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you will do. If you are willing to spend significantly more time and effort than you first imagined, if you are willing to be humbled, challenged, and question your childhood beliefs, your coping skills, your thinking, and the bullshit you so firmly believe to be true – than authentic and lasting change is not only possible, it’s probable.

In the coming year I hope to share with my subscribers my course entitled, “Change your life 52% in one year”. It is about 1% solutions, small but lasting change – one step at a time. That is how change happens, little by little, day by day, month by month. Anything else is probably not real.

Don’t give up. Make small changes and stick with them. Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck. Challenge your cognitive distortions and when you hear about the newest fad that is guaranteed to work – set your crap detector on stun. You’ve had enough disappointment.

You’re worth it.

We Believe In You

It took me fifteen years to get my black belt in Sun Hang Do Martial Arts. Some people do it in four but apparently I am a slow learner. That and the fact that I took a ‘break’ for ten years. I had been only a few months from my black belt exam when my life fell apart. Soon after I rebroke my knee, and because of the state of mind I was in, didn’t think I could come back. For ten years I avoided people I knew at Sun Hang Do and lived with regret. Getting a black belt was something I had dreamed of since I was nine or ten years of age.

A dream that had died.

A few years ago, however, I ran into an old friend and martial arts master, Dave Kinney, who encouraged me to try again. Coming back was difficult, humiliating, and more physically demanding than I would have believed.

But I am a stubborn person.

Last May, fighting off two weeks of Mononucleosis, I showed up for the infamous black belt test. As the eight-hour test was about to start, Dave’s brother, and another amazing guy, Brian Kinney, came up to me and said he wanted to help me have a good day. He opened his wallet and produced a business card with a dime taped to it – a memento of a talk I had given during another black belt test twelve years earlier.

A memento that he has kept in his wallet all these years. Another brilliant martial artist and friend, Kumar Bandyo, still has his as well.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if you make a difference in this world. The martial art I take part in is dedicated to changing the world. That morning Brian reminded me that anyone, even me, can make a difference.
Brian is the third member of Sun Hang Do that has told me he still had his dime, and the only one to produce it. Thanks Brian, that really touched me.

Here is the story I used, not my own, so many years ago. After telling it I handed out a business card with the dime taped to it, the Sun Hang Do Logo on the front, and the words, “we believe in you.”

In 1965 the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was a guy named Bart Starr. He was a great football player but more importantly, he was a great dad.

He had a son, his namesake, Bart Jr. Every time Bart Jr. brought home a paper from school with good marks, or did well in life his dad would write him a note that said something like, “Son, I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you, Dad.” And then he’d take the dime and scotch tape it on a piece of paper. That dime to his son began to be a symbol to him of his dad really believing in him.

One weekend the Packers went to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Bart Starr played the worst game of his entire career. He was intercepted three times, literally lost the game for his team. He flew back to Green Bay, got off the plane and went home, totally deflated and feeling down.

He walked into his bedroom that night and on the dresser was a note from his son. It said, “Dad I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you….. Bart. And taped to the note ….. was a dime.

When you feel like you are losing and no one cares, when you wonder if you can make it; it’s good to know someone is cheering you on.

Here’s your dime.

Dime Bar

Dealing With Your Baggage

child abuseSexual abuse is destroying our society. It’s almost impossible to find accurate statistics on the percentage of women who were molested as children and adolescents. Numbers vary wildly between 20-60%. Statistics about the molestation of boys hovers somewhere between 6 and 24%.

Emotional and physical abuse statistics are difficult to measure but can be equally as devastating, and not just for children.

What everyone does agree on, however, is the devastating impact of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Almost every day I hear story after story of pain and abuse from earliest memory to adulthood. I have often contended that just about everyone has endured some form of abuse by the time they are in their forties. It is easy, therefore, to believe that there is no hope, no cure, no relief from something that looms so large that it feels impossible to overcome. But what if it could be dealt with? What if the effects of this hell on earth could be diminished, even alleviated?

Trauma, whether from childhood or as an adult, is devastating and left undealt with, often affects us for the rest of our lives. Even those of us who have not had a ‘trauma’ event, so to speak, may also have the effects of trauma due to long-term abuse, neglect, or situations which have damaged us emotionally or physically.

Maybe you were not sexually or emotionally abused as a child but wonder if you may still have real baggage. Maybe you grew up in a single family home and it has left you tainted or emotionally wounded. You may have had an emotionally unavailable parent, heard more than your share of verbal abuse or yelling, or had parents who drank too much or used drugs.

Divorce can often have devastating effects on children as well. So can witnessing violence, so can growing up with insecurity or self-esteem issues. Your parents may have shown you dysfuntional ways to deal with stress or relationships.

Although we have different issues, many of us are carrying baggage around. In my course on Trauma we talk about some of the bizarre ways this has impacted many lives. Survivors of trauma are often hoarders, or cannot commit to a relationship, or have difficulty finishing problems, or have long term sexual issues including the seeming inability to be sexually satisfied.

Wounded people often struggle with more loneliness, are far more critical of themselves or others, or are what we call hypervigilent. Their danger radar is especially fine tuned and they are constantly on a high state of alert. There is even evidence to suggest that many who consider themselves ‘discerning’ or ’emotionally in tune’ are actually victims of trauma who have developed this hyper awareness as a defence mechanism.

The list of potential issues associated with trauma goes on and on – difficulty relaxing, problems with intimate relationships, difficulty sharing feelings, extreme reactions to normal situations, anger and anxiety, cycles of abusive relations, approval seeking, etc.

Counselors often say that “Trauma trumps all”. They mean that there are clear indicators that trauma affects every area of your life. If you have not dealt with your baggage it is very likely that you are not living the life you were meant to live. I meet people all the time who have been carrying around this garbage for years, for decades, who believe that there is no choice but to stuff their hurts and try to cope the best they can. While this may work for some, it didn’t work for me. Maybe it isn’t working for you either.

If you are weighed down by a backpack of abuse, neglect, and pain you need to know that there is hope. Working through your issues may be hard but it can lead to hope and liberation. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life reeling from the hurts of your past, no matter the issue.

Talk to someone. Find a friend or colleague that understands and empathizes. Or better yet go see a counselor that doesn’t suck. You can do it.

You’re worth it.

So You’ve Been Depressed For 20 Years, Are You Done Yet?

DepressionI counsel literally hundreds of people each year who are battling depression. While there is clear evidence that some depression is biological in nature, most, by far the vast majority, of cases I work with are people who, at least at one time, had a situation that sparked the emotional decline. This is called, captain obvious, ‘situational depression‘, or lingering adjustment disorder. Untreated, or treated incorrectly, this often slides into a Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD.

Someone died, you developed chronic pain or Fibromyalgia, you lost your job, your partner ran away with that idiot from your church, you have grown up with criticism or insecurity, you were abused. Life has kicked you down and kept you there. Trust me, I am sympathetic in spite of the title. But it’s about time someone called it like it is.

Depression shouldn’t be a terminal illness. You shouldn’t have to take antidepressants for forty years because you can never truly live again. But so many of us do and it’s ridiculous.

You’ve been sold a lie. Maybe it was your doctor or your psychiatrist or your uncle Biff but for some reason you think you have to live with depression, cope with this demon for the rest of your life. After all, didn’t your mom and your grandmother and all your relatives back to Foofoo The Wonder Ape have depression?

I hear this from new clients and patients all the time.

The problem with most of psychiatry is that they simply don’t have the time to counsel you until you can get better. They get paid by the number of patients they see every day – they work on commission. It’s a lot easier to just throw some SSRI your way and book another appointment in a month. I work at a medical clinic and the shear volume of need is simply overwhelming. The reality looks very little like the perceptions of psychiatry in popular culture (Analyze This, Lie to Me, Good Will Hunting, What About Bob? etc.)

And don’t get me started on crappy counselors. Every week I hear about abuse and basic incompetency over and over again. Going to school or taking a course doesn’t make you a good counselor any more than eating a salad makes you a carrot. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until someone pays attention – most counselors suck!

Fortunately there are some counselors out there who understand about depression and are willing to try to move you beyond a life of bondage. I hope I am considered one of those people. Using a combination of current and evolving evidence-based therapies, sometimes in combination with medications, hundreds and thousands of people are finding hope and relief, as well as an opportunity to become a “normie” once again.

Don’t settle for a life of depression and hopelessness. I will be addressing this at length with my email subscribers and offering some practical information that WORKS.

Oh ya, and hire a counselor who doesn’t suck… (which I will help you with).