Self-pity Revisted

First post in about 9 months…. must be something really on my mind, no?


Self-pity… wow… what a sneaky, powerful enemy.  One of the worst habits, and inhibitors of life, happiness, and success I have ever come across.

In my experience, most self-pity is rooted in genuine pain.  Pain does not have to lead to self-pity, it simply often does.

We hurt about something… someone wronged us, an expectation was missed, we lost someone or something, we became ill or injured… the list is endless.  And naturally, we felt legitimate pain.  Who wouldn’t?

Then somehow, a weak part of our thinking seeks to add some drama to this pain.  It perhaps says,

“Hey, if you really emphasize this pain, to yourself and others, it will be all the more validated.  And the person or circumstance that hurt you will be all the more wrong.  It will highlight the injustice and in that there will be some satisfaction for you.  There will be a payoff of some kind”.

But the insidious part of all of this is we don’t even know we are doing it.  We don’t know that we are adding drama to our pain, and thereby making our legitimately bad circumstance even worse.  Why? Could it be because we are basking in whatever payoff we are feeling in the drama we are creating or going along with?

And the worst part is we don’t see how we are adding to our pain as well as entrenching it deeper and deeper into our thinking and feeling.  The payoff is a ruse, a decoy, a bait-and-switch process that entices us to reach for more, yet we are really just being ripped off all the more.

What can we do instead?  What I’ve tried to do, and rest assured I mastered the art of self-pity to the point that I went out of my way to drink, drug, and depress my life away, so what I have tried to do when I discovered my road to recovery, is to simply stop at saying, “this hurts”.

Anything more than an expression of the pain I feel is usually a step in the direction of self-pity.  And do you notice that in most cases, verbal exaggeration points in the direction of self-pity?

So I do my best to find a way to simply say, “Ouch”, and then immediately begin to find help to deal with the reality of my pain, and not take it to a new and false level.  Because the new level will intensify, prolong, and completely misrepresent the pain.  It will cause me to blame.  And blame is usually the act of mis-assigning responsibility.

And even if my pain is someone else’s fault, focusing on their fault will not help me get through it as much as focusing on what I can do in each moment to address the reality of my current pain.  And most often, I do this with help.  Help of someone I trust.  Either a friend, sponsor, minister, or family.   Carefully chosen people who will not co-sign self-pity in helping me through the pain.



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Renting them space in your head.

The notion that we rent people space in our heads (meaning allowing them to occupy our thoughts, usually in a negative way), isn’t quite accurate in my experience.

To rent someone space would imply that we get some form of compensation or gain for allowing them to occupy.  But what do we gain?  Typically nothing.

So do we really rent them space or do we let them stay for free with no damage deposit and throw in heat and cable?

I think the latter.  I have someone staying in my head today.  A guy who believes I cut him off in traffic today and reacted with hostility.  I honestly do not believe I did, but rather, I think he preferred to be in the front of the line of traffic and didn’t like the fact that I was.

He pulled ahead, slammed on his brakes, then dropped back to beside me and yelled threats and profanities at me.  I rolled my window down and told him to chill and asked him what he was wound up about.  He told me… in no uncertain terms.  I apologized saying if I had that it wasn’t intentional, then I ignored him.

The whole exchange was maybe 20 seconds.  Yet, it has taken me hours to dial it down in my own head and stop giving him the space I have been.

So what is my task in all of this?  What actions support my recovery and align with my beliefs?  The actions best suited for these would be to forget the whole thing other than to be aware that perhaps I can come across as a little hostile in traffic if I am not being careful.

But letting stuff like this go does not come naturally or easily.  I think of all the things I could have said to diminish his rage.  I think of what a fool he sounded like implying he was a gang member or in some manner connected.  I think of what a lousy life he must have if this is how he interacts with people.  I think of how, although unlikely, I may have been in more danger than I realized.

In the scheme of things in my life, this incident bears basically no importance.  So why give it any free space.  In fact, not free, I am subsidizing it for him by keeping it alive with thoughts of the what-ifs.

But what kind of a person do I want to continue to grow to be?  One who wins every little battle, including these little traffic blips?  Or one who can shake this off quickly and instead, use my time for the benefit of me and those who are important to me.

How much of my head space does an enraged stranger deserve?  And why should those who rely on me give up the time and energy I normally allocate to them because some hot-head who I will never see again went berserk for 20 seconds?

So what is the recovery lesson here?  The lesson is that goofy things can still continue to happen, but I have the opportunity to develop and live in that oh so amazing skill of shaking it off quickly and moving on.  It never happened.  I am now free.



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Lost out or spared from?

I lost a lot financially when I crashed and burned years ago. I thought I had lost out on things that were important a vital to a happy and successful life. Comforts and privileges that I then thought added to the quality if my life. Most of all, I thought I was handling the comforts and privileges well when I had them.

Today, I do not have the same comforts and privileges I once did. I make less, live in a smaller home, and do not associate with the people and communities I once did.

Recent events brought me into the company of some of the people and communities of my past. But I am a different person than I was when I was in those circles. I don’t mean to create an “us and them” notion here, but the only way I can think to say it is that I am no longer one of them, and I feel different from them.

There was a time when I agonizingly resisted the loss of what I once had. I thought I was losing out and missing out. Today, I feel more like I was “spared from”.

Spared from what? Well, first off, I believe I was spared from the pride that emerged from being in a position of envy. I new people admired and envied what I had, and although I didn’t conspicuously boast, I did float out little indicators letting people know how well I was doing.

I was spared from the shallowness I once lived in thinking that it was critical to keep up an image. An image I felt I needed. Yet the projection of this image did not help me or others. It instead, hurt both them and me. It separated us.

I was spared of the self-deception of who I had become. One of the greatest compliments I have ever had was in a job offer I got years ago when I was in early recovery. Did an in-depth psychological profile test as part of the screening. When the employer reviewed it with me, he said that self-awareness was the strongest trait that the profile revealed in me. Would I have scored so high on self-awareness had I not crashed, burned, and recovered?

At the events this week that brought me back into association with the people and communities I was once affiliated with, I looked around and pondered how little I wanted to be a part of it all. Instead, I wanted to reach out and help the people who were still entrenched in the deceptions I was once lost in.

I had no envy whatsoever. The “privilege” of their lives was in fact no privilege at all. They seemed lost in their self-consumed, insulated lives, the way I once was. One man in particular sat there seemingly basking in the attention he was receiving for his accomplishments, yet having never so much as acknowledged numerous harms and wrongs he was responsible for.

One of the most blatant wrongs was one against me. It had never been acknowledged, apologized for, or amended in any way in over a decade. Yet bitterness is not what came to mind when I saw him in last night’s setting. Instead, it was gratefulness for having been spared from the oblivion and self-deception I once lived in similar to his.

Life and loss forced me to wake up. They forced me to be the kind of person who looks at himself, asks others to speak truth to me when I can’t see it for myself, right wrong, make amends, and live in grace, forgiveness,and service to God and others.

“What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul”? In a sense, I lost much of my world, but feel I gained my soul.

So lost out or spared from? Today I’m thinking spared from.



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Compassion & Humility

I listened recently to an amazing teaching that included the subtleties of the heart we may or may not have when helping others.

The most compelling part to me was the point that unless we reach out from a place of humility, we will seldom be effective.  Why?  Well probably because our agenda is tainted.  And that rather than trying to help them in the reality of who they are and the circumstances they are in, we will in all likelihood be trying to achieve something else…. like self-fulfillment, rescuing, being the hero, guilt, or some such other ulterior motive.

We will often miss the point of what real help for them is.  We will be fulfilling first our own need.  And yes, they may in some way benefit from our efforts even if born out of our tainted motive.  Our effectiveness may simply be limited… or nil.

What lurks in our hearts?  Only God knows.  Only God can reveal.



(find minute 19:00 or so in the Dec 26, 2010 talk)

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“All teenagers smoke pot”

Alright…. I’m gonna call bull shit on this one.

Yes, been a while since I posted and sorry my return to blogging starts a little coarsely. I am sick of the low bar of expectation we project on our North American middle-class youth.

My region leads the country with dope smokin teens. Yet not one study confirms even 50% of teens smoke weed. The highest I’ve seen is in the high 30’s.

Furthermore, there are many, many teens I know who perform at very high levels of sports, academics, and humanitarian endeavours who do not have the time or inclination to hang out with Mary Jane.  My kids included.  They certainly are not immune to temptation, but they have said, “where would I find the time”.

Why am I a little upset? Well, some teens I know well have taken to it recently, arguing that “everyone does it”.  And we hear adults rationalize it this same way.

While I recognize that a lot of people do, I will argue that most don’t. It is not “typical”. Nor is it very common among high performers. In my early 20s, I worked shoulder to shoulder for 2 years with a group of 6 study partners when I was in school. We all graduated with honours, were recruited into jobs immediately, and not a one of us smoked weed. On the other hand, there was a small group of guys who frequently did sow up high and not a one did well. They were a joke.  They were lazy and got lousy marks.

I know my example is far from scientific but it is a vivid example from my experience.

Fast-forward to today, and In my fast-paced pressure-cooker workplace, none of the high performers use weed. Or if they do, they are masters of disguise and have 30 hours in their days. Yet we just let a guy go who admitted to smoking weed daily. He did not get let go because of his weed-smoking, but because he was easily one of the laziest, low performing people I have ever seen try to enter my field.

I am sick of our culture rationalizing its normalcy and endorsing its use among teens. I know the agony of parents who’s kids are unemployed lay-about dope smokers because they let their teens get away with it. Not that it an be prevented by every parent, but how many parents go along with it because thy think it is “normal”.

The teens I am dealing with right now have rationalized its normalcy. They think that they are doing well enough so smoking a bit of weed shouldn’t harm them. This breaks my heart because they are limiting their potential. They are settling for the mediocre bar of achievement at a 6 out of 10 effort and result. They appear to be settling and it is breaking my heart.

And maybe I feel I am failing them as an adult influence.

I see kids from tight-knit immigrant families out-work, out-study, and out-succeed many of our Canadian-born youth. We have a young Korean kid in one of our divisions at work… About age 23.  He had worked in his family’s restaurant since he was 12 and all the way through school.  He now works for us and 5 Division-Managers in our company all want him on their teams.  He has 5 jobs waiting for him while many guys can’t even get 1.

I guess I am just sick of it. The bar is too low. Our youth deserve better from our culture.

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Was Jesus’ first miracle a liquor run?

I read a book recently that cast a different light on not so much who Jesus was, but perhaps more “how” Jesus likely was.  There was not dispute that Jesus was the Son of God and Messiah.  The questioning was more to do with how little we actually know about the type of person he was, and how a great deal of society’s views about Jesus have been influenced by art, literature, drama, and entertainment.

Jesus tops up the wine supply

There was a lot to all of this and I am sure it is no new subject.  It is certainly can and has formed the basis of huge debate over the centuries and has divided families, communities, and nations.

All I really wanted to summarize in this post is that I looked at my own preconceptions about Jesus, and concluded that I have over the years adopted many of the cultural presumptions.  Including but not limited to the presumption that Jesus was a tall, blonde, soft-spoken, Caucasian.  He was gentle with everyone, and frankly somewhat drab in personality. He seldom spoke in humour or anger.  Again, these were presumptions that I inadvertently picked up over the years.

To these presumptions, I have to say, “Where is the evidence of any of this, and why does it even matter”?

Jesus was as he was.  And however that was, his impact has affected humanity more than any other person before or after.  He was feared by the king of his own nation to the point that even before his birth, the king sought to kill him.

Throughout his life, he hung out with the undesirables of the time, and was opposed by, and eventually killed by, those who claimed to be the upright establishment of the day.

He lived during a time when one of the mightiest and most technologically-advanced empires in history, The Roman Empire, ruled over and occupied his nation.  Yet hundreds of years after the collapse and disappearance of that mighty empire, Jesus teachings are still sought worldwide, and in accelerating numbers in many parts of the world.

So I am inclined to believe that Jesus was something quite a bit more than how art, literature, drama, and entertainment have portrayed him.

And to clinch it for this recovering alcoholic, it really jumped out at me that it is seldom recognized that it sounds like Jesus may have partied it up a bit too.  Not to say he was unsafe or unwise about it, and yes, there is probably a cultural context to the consumption of wine in the middle east 2000 years ago, but here is a pretty plain and well-established account of Jesus topping up the wine supply well into the party.  I think there is a lot more to Jesus than I have ever believed…

John 2:

“1: And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: 2: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.  3: And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4: Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. 5: His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. 6: And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. 7: Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. 8: And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. 9: When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10: And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. 11: This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

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News Years Day Resolution

Happy New Year!

I woke up this morning realizing I now had the family cold. I was hoping to avoid it this year but it was undeniable.

I didn’t want to waste the day laying in bed and I knew I had enough strength to do at least something. So I resolved, not for a year, but for a day, to maintain a positive mindset and use with gratitude the limited energy I had for today.

I am pleased to report that it was a highly productive day, in spite of a slower pace.

It occurred to me that a reason resolutions are seldom carried out is that the scope is too big. Any of us who have recovered from alcoholism have come to learn that we can resolve for a day far better than a year.

Just for today, I made a resolution and accomplished it!

A great way to star the year!

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Lying voices

I get tired of the lying voices in my head that speak a constant barrage of negativity.

What keeps them alive is their longterm residency in my head, and sheer familiarity that made my listening to them a habit.

Isn’t that what we fall into, habits of thought?  Bad habits, but we don’t realize it.  Self-limiting or self-destructive habits.  Most of them rooted in fear.  Fear of what?  Failure most likely.  Fear, fear, fear, fear.

We are asked in 12-step recovery to, after taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”, to “Admit to God, ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs”.

In my experience, the exact nature of most of our wrongs is fear.  Fear leads us to compromise.  Fear can lead us to steal, lie, cheat, cut corners, be unkind to others, put on a front of arrogance, just to name a few.

What can we do about this ever-present fear in us?  Can we shut it off, learn to ignore it?  Drown it out with other thoughts?

I think so.

Set Free

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Reaching out

I am in a place I haven’t known for about 10 years.  A place of overwhelm with anxiety over some current circumstances.

The last time I felt like this was when marriage #1 was falling apart and my now ex was ending things in the most abrupt and painful way.  I couldn’t believe what was happening and I was in constant horror, anxiousness, and preoccupation with what was going on.  I feared for the future and felt of little value.

Amazingly though, in time and as life progressed, I all but forgot those times and feelings of 10 years ago.  Much has changed.  Life has recovered so significantly that it seems like another lifetime that all of the pain and turmoil happened in.  It in fact seems like someone else’s life.

Yet, for the first time since then, I am on the verge of some very similar, although I will say a muted version, of those same feelings.

Our business, which has been a success and grown steadily over the past 5 years, has suddenly taken a completely unexpected slow-down.  We have been working to understand why, but the best we can do is identify a short list of possibilities, as the root cause is not clear.

I find myself in a version of the same horror, anxiousness, and preoccupation in this situation as I did in the last one.  A tremendous fear for my future has welled up, in spite of the fact that there are many options and opportunities I can switch to if our business flounders completely.  Which frankly is entirely unlikely, but the fear gets a hold of you and the worst comes vividly to mind…. and tries to stay there.

I am not far off 50… in just a couple years …. and all of the benchmarks that were “supposed to” be reached feel like they are not.  Not financially anyway.   The anxiousness has been a real effort to deal with, yet I know the worry is inordinate.  At least in my conscious mind.  But my subconscious is having a heyday with these few small indicators that our business may be in trouble.  Even though we may just be in a peculiar lull that is not easily explainable and may turn around at any time.

Yet unlike 10 years ago, I am grateful to say I am dealing with this situation sober, and with a collection of resources to help me get through that are making it more bearable than last time, including:

  • The practice of living a day at a time
  • The practice of fellowship in reaching out to others
  • The experience of having gone through a number of big challenges in recent years, all of which turned out ok in the end
  • A more practical understanding of how God works in spite of the outcome of the circumstances
  • A distrust of some of the voices of my internal dialogue
  • A trust of some of the more reliable and time-proven voices of my internal dialogue
  • An awareness of my tendency to “awfulize” minor negatives into huge catastrophes
  • A belief in my own ability to persevere and do what needs to be done, even if it doesn’t feel like I am getting anywhere 


I guess what I am saying is that fear is trying to move in.  And it has made some inroads.  I don’t want to lose what we have worked so hard to build.  My fears try to tell me the worst.

The truth is though, even if the worst were to happen, I still have many blessings in my life including my marriage, my health, my employability, my sobriety, and my veteran status of many of life’s most painful and challenging battles.

I simply wanted to put this out there.  To reach out and share what I am going through.  It has always helped in the past.



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My heart broke and I cant get him off my mind…

Has it really been 5 months since I last posted?  How time flies… it has been a busy year.

I was moved so deeply tonight and I can’t shake it.  I haven’t blogged in a long time but it had always helped me in the past.  I need to share tonight.

boy playing with toys

My wife and I helped a family tonight.  It was unexpected and I suppose untypical for us, but we came across a crisis in the lives of some people we know through our work.  Another friend involved ask us if we could have the boy from this family stay with us for a few hours until the crisis was dealt with.

We have an area of our home that they knew would accommodate him perfectly so we were happy to help.  What I didn’t know was that the boy, about age 11, had some special needs, and was at the maturity level of about a 6-year-old.  I also didn’t know that the crisis was about him.  One of his parents had come to the end of their emotional rope and was coming unglued.  Unglued due to exhaustion of dealing with a child with profoundly high needs.  And perhaps some special needs of their own.

A friend, a kind and loving lady, brought the boy to our home and sat with him.  My wife and I popped in to see how they were doing.  There he sat watching a video on our friends computer and playing with some favourite toys he brought along.  They were actually toys more typically played with by girls.  Girls much younger than him.  My heart melted.  I welled up at the sight of this innocent child with pants left too short by his growth spurt, playing with dolls, and having no clue that he was our guest because his parents couldn’t handle him at the moment.

I introduced myself and asked about his movie… a pixar film with brilliant animation and Hollywood stars doing the voices of the characters.  He told me about the story line with his impeded speech, pronouncing his Rs as Ws, all the while playing with his collection of dolls on his lap.

All I wanted to do in that moment was wave a wand and make his world perfect.  Erase his disability, heal his parents’ woundedness, and make them all ok.  I wanted him to be walking down Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland with his parents.  Happy, secure, loved… and not a care in the world.

Yet isn’t the world full of children with needs and circumstances like his and far worse?  Of course, everywhere.  What can I impart to a child like this?  How can I help?  What can I do?  All I know so far is that I can’t do nothing.

Was I a version of this child when my family was coming apart 40 years ago?  Although not special needs like this boy was, was I not this same naive child having no clue about the adult problems going on in the background?  And kind friends and family around taking us in and helping us out to insulate us from the turmoil and dangers of my alcoholic father?  I remember carting along toys to my Grandparents’ house when one night, Mom drove us there at an unusual time when my Dad was out of town, knowing he would surely return home drunk at the end of the job.

Gladly, our young visitor tonight did return home with the help of the kind lady who brought him here, after another kind and capable friend had helped settle matters at his home and arrange some supports for the days ahead.

Dear God, I can’t stand by and let things like this happen.  Please show me what I can do and where I can start.  I know I can’t help all, but please show me how I can help the ones I can.

Your servant, Chaz

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