The Responsibility We Have To Ourselves

By Michael Arndt

Growing up, I hated the word responsibility. I hated being told I was responsible for things. I didn’t want any responsibility, I don’t think I thought I was capable of taking any. I was so downtrodden and could not accept that I was responsible for everything that I created in my life. It felt overwhelming and caused me feelings of anxiety. It was easier for me to just blame others for my problems. As I have begun the journey into recovery, I have learned that I cannot fully heal and evolve into my best self unless I take full and ultimate responsibility for my life, my healing, my actions, and also the people I allow into my life.

I could wrap my mind around being responsible for my actions and my healing. But when I was told that I also had to take responsibility for the people I allowed into my life, I balked. At first I could not accept that level of responsibility. It would require that I push my sphere of responsibility outward. I had never considered this before.

But it sunk in, and over time I began to see what that really meant. It meant that if I make the choice to continue interacting with someone who has shown me that they are not capable of respecting my boundaries, or that they are not capable of respecting my desire to be healthy, I am responsible for the damage caused. Sometimes it can be as simple as not walking similar paths in life with similar goals. But if I try to force these relationships, or even simply allow them to continue, and continue to allow those people into my life and my space, I am responsible for the consequences. I cannot sit back and say to myself that I didn’t know better. I cannot sit back and complain that I am being negatively affected by the relationship when I allowed it to continue, whether it was out of fear of being alone, fear of confrontation, or because they were filling some base need for me. If I allow it, then I am responsible for it.

I began to see that just because I am responsible for something, does not necessarily mean something bad — it isn’t a judgment about who I am at my core. I think this was at the heart of my aversion to responsibility when I was younger. I thought that if I took responsibility and failed, it meant I was a bad person. This could not be further from the truth. Taking responsibility is ultimately about protecting one’s self and one’s energy. It is the tool by which we can honor our best selves, and protect our hearts and our minds. Without responsibility, we live in a perpetual disempowered state of victimhood in which we have convinced ourselves we have no power and are at the mercy of other people and circumstances.

Mourning the Loss of Our Destructive Behaviors

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram:
@michaelcastcenters

Usually when we think of loss and mourning, we think of losing someone we love. But there are more kinds of loss than just the kind we experience when we lose someone close to us. There is the kind of loss we experience when we shed behaviors we have used to insulate ourselves from discomfort or a relationship that has run its course or is no longer healthy. It turns out, loss presents itself in similar ways, regardless of what we are mourning the loss of.

It can even be true for giving up drinking or drugs, self-harm, lying, or lashing out in anger. All of these can, for some people, serve the same purpose: to help us deal with feelings we have a low tolerance for. When we start the road to recovery, we actively work to lessen our engagement in these behaviors or rid them from our lives entirely. In doing so, we are often confronted with feeling “torn.” On one hand we know that these behaviors/addictions are destructive, and on the other hand, we cannot imagine life without them.

We also often mourn the loss of our behaviors and addictions. We go through stages where we miss it terribly, even when it is harmful to us. We will avoid going to places that remind of us it, just like we might when we have lost a person or ended a relationship. Some people, especially in early sobriety cannot eat certain foods without thinking too longingly of the drink they used to have with it.

It is also common to go through a phase where we try to bargain and justify, like by saying we’ll only drink wine instead of liquor, or only binge once a week, or self-harm without puncturing skin. Not unlike people do when they lose someone and try to bargain with God or the universe. Making all manner of promises and oaths to have the person brought back or to be able to see them one last time.

When we think of the bonds we create, we almost always view them as bonds between other people. But we also form very close and intimate bonds with our destructive coping mechanisms. They occupy huge parts of our minds and our lives, and over time we become just as attached to them as we do to family, partners, and friends. This explains why they’re so hard to break. It requires a ton of patience and practice and leaning on others to process the experience. It is a relationship, and when we start to view it as a relationship, it becomes easier to speak about, and to say goodbye to.

Our Relationship With The Truth

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

Before I got sober, my life pretty much revolved around lying. I led a double life that required keeping a lot of secrets and telling a lot of lies. It is an uncomfortable topic for us to discuss, and though almost everyone lies, if you ask them, they will vehemently deny it. There is a lot of shame around our relationship with dishonesty. We are taught that it makes someone a bad person if they lie.

My experience has taught me tha is almost never the case. Often, people lie because they are in pain, shame, or fear. I think we can all have compassion for a person who is experiencing these emotions — they are difficult and we have all been there.

I am not advocating dishonesty, but advocating instead for compassion for those who struggle with it. There are those too who are so hurt, ashamed or fearful of reality that they have no accurate perception of it and therefore cannot speak to it; It is often not even conscious.

As we all know, being as honest and vulnerable as we can in recovery is a crucial piece to getting well. We cannot change that which we do not acknowledge. The more tightly we hang on to our pain, the more it will hurt us. It is helpful, if you are struggling with it, to take a step back from it and gain some perspective on it. Ask yourself, what is the reason that compels me to be dishonest? Am I attempting to control a narrative because I am scared of being seen for who I really am? Am I so hurt at the prospect of rejection that I would rather be dishonest and inauthentic?

There are some valuable lessons surrounding discomfort with the truth. These areas in our lives and in ourselves are worthy of nonjudgmental exploration and can expand our growth and sense of self.

Relationships

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

February is the month of relationships. Valentine’s Day tends to skew the focus towards romantic relationships, but I would like to broaden that to all of our close relationships, whether they are with family, friends, co-workers or partners.

As we begin the process of recovery and living from a place of greater integrity, most of us will quickly realize that we must show up differently in our relationships. Due to the reflective nature of relationships in general, this also includes the way in which we show up for ourselves. We no longer want internal conflict, lack of discipline (boundaries), or disrespect. We want to value and be valued.

We will find that if we are not practicing tools to address unwanted issues in our internal lives, we will struggle to implement them in our relationships. We will begin to notice that as we gain more awareness around our behaviors, we also gain awareness around the behaviors of others, which can occasionally lead to conflict. This can be potentially problematic; if an argument happens to arise, remember to use “I” statements, and thread compassion through your words. Even disagreements can be had harmoniously.

In the same manner that we must set aside fear of vulnerability in our recovery, we must also do so in our relationships. Fear keeps us from communicating properly: fear that we won’t have our needs met, fear that we won’t be understood, or, even worse, fear that we will not be accepted. To counter this, we must first ask ourselves what our fear is about. We must get specific. If the fear is about having our needs met, we should ask ourselves “Is this a need I should be looking to have met externally?” If the fear is that we will not be understood, we should ask ourselves “Am I really afraid of not being understood, or am I afraid of what the response might be?” And if the fear is that we will not be accepted we ask, “If speaking my truth leads to this person not accepting me, then what is most important to me? Being honest or not being alone?”

These are deep-dive and uncomfortable questions to answer. Navigating relationships can be difficult, but as a wise person once said “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love someone else?”

Setting Goals

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

As we ring in the new year, almost all of us begin the process of making New Year’s resolutions. There are standard ones like getting back into shape, quitting smoking, budgeting better, spending less time on social media, etc, and, as most of us have experienced, these resolutions generally have a lifespan of about a month. Not because we lack gumption or willpower, but generally because we lack clarity and we are unrealistic.

In order to set attainable goals for ourselves, we must first be very clear about what it is we want. Setting the goal of ‘getting back in shape’ for example, is not very clear, there is no ‘how’ behind it, but setting the goal of going to the gym 5x a week for an hour is much more clear, it explains how you are going to start working towards your goal. There is structure there in the form of a schedule that you have set for yourself. This goal is therefore more attainable.

For the sake of argument however, let’s say you have this same goal of going to the gym 5x a week for an hour but you also work 60 hours a week and haven’t worked out in years. This goal then would be unrealistic for you. There is nothing wrong with starting small. It would be more realistic for you to go to the gym 2x a week and just do cardio and some basic exercises. You can then build on your success after a few weeks. Slow and steady wins the race.

The same can be said of our goals for the most important aspect of our lives: our relationship with ourselves. Are we determined to be more compassionate with ourselves? To truly know ourselves? To accept all the parts of ourselves? When we cultivate an inner-life of love and integrity, we begin to reflect this onto our relationships not only with the people in our lives, but with how we perceive the world and life itself. When we practice this, we begin to build a life that makes reaching our goals much easier and much more worthwhile.

Purposeful Reflection​

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

As the year comes to an end, we naturally find ourselves reflecting back. This can be tricky for most of us. Sometimes we do not like to reflect, most of us have many ups and downs over the course of the year. Sometimes we have acted outside of integrity, or were wronged in ways that are painful. Sometimes we carry shame about parts of our years.

As much as we talk about living in the present, and staying connected to the moment we are currently in, there are ways in which reflecting on the past can be beneficial to us. The difference is the lens through which we decide to view our past. Do we decide to view it through the lens of a victim? Or do we do decide to view it through the lens of gratitude? Can we be compassionate with ourselves and with those we feel have wronged us?

We carry this mindset into the new year. If we chose to look back in anger or resentment, we will carry this anger and these resentments into the new year and they set the tone for what we can expect out of ourselves and out of new opportunities.

On the other hand, if we chose to look back with compassion, gratitude and acceptance, we will not only find that this helps heal some wounds we might still have, it also helps to lessen some of the shame we have, and we will carry this positivity into the new year.

So as the new year approaches, ask yourself, what do you want to take away from this year to carry with you into the next? This is the art of purposeful reflection and the choice is yours.

Spirituality

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

For many people, spirituality evokes a strong response, some negative and some positive. When I first came to CAST, I was put off by just the word spirituality. At the time, I thought of the religion I was raised with, which I no longer identified with nor felt connected to. However, I was reminded to keep my mind open, and to not judge the whole forest because I didn’t like one of its trees. 

Somewhere along the line, my perspective on spirituality shifted dramatically. I no longer saw it as a necessarily religious word tethered to my own experience growing up. Through having open conversations with my peers and mentors, I came to identify the spirituality as a feeling of connectedness and purpose. I developed a spiritual practice that worked for me, one that was in alignment with my values and principles. I began to understand that my spiritual life is meant to enrich my heart and my soul — that is its primary function. It does not require that we follow any religious tenets, but does not exclude that either.

What matters is that we understand that spirituality means living a life in alignment with our own principles and values. It means living authentically and giving more to each other and the world than we take. It’s the process of building self-esteem by performing esteemable actions. It grows and evolves as we grow and evolve.

Compassion

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

Compassion is a foundational and universal value and practice. Compassion allows us to connect and empathize with others. It also allows us to take things a little less personally. 

For many of us, it is easy for us to find compassion for people we are close to, or with whom we relate easily. However, most of us can think of a few people we have encountered or who are part of our lives with whom we struggle to find compassion.

In the early stages of my own recovery, I often struggled with finding compassion when I felt I was being lied to or manipulated by others. We can easily justify not even attempting to find compassion for challenging individuals. We tell ourselves that they are unworthy because they are “bad” or that they are choosing to do something we do not agree with or cannot relate to. As it turns out, these people and situations hold an incredibly valuable lesson for us.

In finding compassion for more difficult individuals, we are actually challenging our hearts and minds to expand. We learn to treat every human being with a little more respect and understanding. In doing so, we deepen an even more important practice: treating OURSELVES with a little more compassion.

This helps to lessen our feelings of shame and guilt, and in doing so, we may find that having more compassion for ourselves and others makes life just a little bit easier. 

Gratitude As A Practice

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

As most of us begin the journey of recovery, we often hear the word gratitude thrown around. Some of us write gratitude lists daily and share them with friends, but few of us go beyond that.

To live a life with gratitude not only as a concept or word, but as an action is a very different experience. We can show our gratitude by picking up the phone and checking in with someone without the intention of talking about ourselves.

Actions like this show the person we are grateful for them, and that we value them even without us having to say it. Bigger steps like volunteering our time demonstrate our gratitude for others and show our willingness to put them first.

To live a life in alignment with gratitude as a core principle, we notice that we begin to live differently, think differently, and most importantly, feel differently. We are no longer as hindered by self-centered thinking. We open our minds and our hearts to others, and begin to see life more positively. It is a choice and a practice.

We will never do anything perfectly (nor should we expect to), but as we travel the road of recovery we find that gratitude holds a very important role in our daily practice. 

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