Recovery is a funny thing. We yell and scream and swear we’ll never drink, drug, masturbate, watch porn, lust, self-harm, purge again only to be found in the next moment doing exactly that. Why is it that in one moment we can be so strongly convicted one way and in the next we’re right back at it again?
This cycle of being determined to succeed and then failing shortly thereafter is sickening. Going round and round made me want to puke and then punch myself in the gut for puking.
I’ll share the simple secret to stoping this cycle in a bit. But first, what do you do when you fail?
- Face-Palm of Death…Do you remember the monks from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? These hooded figures walked around mumbling chants and periodically hit themselves in the face with a two by four. One reaction to failure is feeling the need to be punished for bad behavior. Some people take it upon themselves to crush any and all sense of self-confidence or self-worth to ‘make up for’ what they did. It’s like they repeatedly face-palm themselves at full force and curse themselves in between whacks. “I AM SO STUPID!” Whack!
- Hire an Executioner…Others outsource their punishment and hire someone else to do the trick. They lock themselves into the gallows after fastening someone else’s hand on the rope to release the guillotine. “This is what I deserve! I’m sorry I failed you! Please pull it!” A lot of the times, this is disguised in the recovery world by unhealthy expectations of an accountability partner. What they mean by “hold me accountable” is “punish me when I fail”. They think that if someone else can shame them well enough when they fail that they will alas repent of their wrong. It’s almost like they’re the body-builders of repentance: no pain, no forgiveness. And I need a lot of forgiveness, so make it hurt!
- Take the Shame Crawl… Imagine crawling on all fours and doing the ugly-cry as you’re wrapped around God’s feet, “Please, please, please, forgive me for what I’ve done. Take me back! I swear I’ll be better!” The logic here is that maybe God will re-accept me if I cry hard enough. At some point, He’ll be like the older brother from Diary of a Wimpy Kid and yell, “LET GO BABY HIPPO!” because of your annoying, repentant persistence. Maybe if I just re-up my daily Hail Mary quotient, I could tip the scale and outweigh my sin.
- Throw a Pity Party…You’re invited! Come cry with me about how bad it sucked for me to fail! I was so tempted. They were letting me have it for free. She was just too hot. It’s everywhere. I couldn’t avoid it. I couldn’t handle it. Please, understand how hard this was for me and feel bad for me that I failed! It really sucks, and I’m really sad, and I want you to join me in my sadness. I’m boiling a tea kettle of my tears right now, and I’ll gladly pour you a shot that we can chase with a squeeze of my personal woes.
I make light of each of these reactions because I’ve done all of them. If you see yourself in any of these, feel free to read it again and laugh at yourself. I’m certainly not discrediting the way you feel or telling you that you’re wrong. Instead, I’m saying that when you zoom out and look at what you’re really doing, it’s kinda silly! I know it is for me when I think of all the silly things I did when I failed.
And there’s a better way to do this that will stop the sickening cycle of setting out to never do something and then walking into it again. You must first abandon these self-destructive shame patterns and lean into the uncomfortable world of learning and war. Here’s how:
1) Failure is an event, not an attribute.
The first thing you need to know is that failure isn’t something to internalize. You don’t need to beat yourself up, have someone else do your dirty work, crawl to God on all fours, or pity yourself. You’ve nothing to be punished for, God’s already forgiven you, and it’s OK that you made a mistake. Truly. Viewing failure as an event to study, to learn from, and to help you win the next time is at the core of stopping this cycle. View it objectively. Imagine that failure is something lying on a dissection table you’re going to pick apart and understand.
2) Find the root of your failure.
The most important question you need to ask yourself is this: what lie did I believe as the truth? Think about it. A few days ago, you were so determined to succeed that you screamed and shouted and swore. Your mind was set. What happened? Your mind changed. Why? Because you believed a lie was true, and then your actions followed suit. Then when you snapped back to, you spun into the sickening cycle of frustration, shame, and self-hate. The problem was that you believed a lie that changed your mind. What is that lie? Was it that you believed that this would give you pleasure and that it was worth it? Was it that you needed it? Was it that you deserved it? Was it that you needed a release? Was it that you couldn’t keep fighting the temptation? Wrestle with this. If you pray, ask God and listen. Spend serious time considering what derailed your mind because this is why you failed.
3) Anticipate, and fight with the truth.
Overcoming these lies is much like war. Your enemy has certain tactics they employ to take you out. Now that you know what they used last time, prepare your defenses, prepare your counter-attack, and execute in battle. The next time you’re about to get on your computer and you feel those lies creep up, tell yourself the truth out loud. “No! This isn’t worth it. I won’t stand for that. I stand for purity.” Prepare a statement that adequately vanquishes these lies by understanding what your enemy uses and countering it with the truth. Anticipate when you’ll be hit with those lies, and fight back by declaring the truth out loud until you win.
The truth is: you absolutely can win. Study your failures. Discover the lies. Equip yourself with the truth. Anticipate your enemy. Outsmart them and win. Stop the cycle.
What did you used to do when you failed? What lies are you believing? What truth are you going to claim moving forward?