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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Denial Trap

Are you captive to bad habits? Truthfully, we all can answer yes. Because the reality of quitting is frightening to us we choose to believe we aren't in that group of people. This is called denial. You may be familiar with the old AA acronym for DENIAL: Don't Even Know I Am Lying to myself.

Most professionals agree: denial is the unintentional failure to deal with pain. Ask any kid—if they know punishment is inevitable they are tempted to lie to avoid pain. It is not necessarily all bad because it can be a coping skill which initially numbs us to changes we don’t wish to acknowledge due to circumstances such as a loss or death or grave disappointment. It can be a buffer to the psyche. In these kinds of cases, denial is usually the first stage of the grieving process.

While we all use denial to a certain extent to cope with pain, we never do so without risk. It tends to catch up with us when we fail to accept the truth. Denial is a powerful tool the enemy uses to convince us we have control of our lives. Scripture says, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

We find it in the workplace: “My job is safe”; in schools: “It’s the teacher’s fault I got an F”; and most often, in relationships: “The reason he hurts me is I don’t show him the respect he deserves.” We hang onto the misbeliefs in an effort to soothe the inner anguish. It allows us to avoid coming to terms with what’s really going on.

Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41). The Message paraphrase reads, “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.”

Never underestimate denial’s ability to cloud your vision. Remember, facts don’t cease to exist because they’re ignored. Take responsibility and say, “I have an issue. I want to deal with it now.” Confess to God. Then tell one safe person. Ask the person if she or he would be an accountability and prayer partner. It is essential to walk in the light of a Christian community.

We can choose to see truth and reality. We can grab God's hand and choose to step out of our comfort zone and begin the transformation process into Christlikeness. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes! Yes! Yes!

This is an excerpt from my book Something Happened On My Way to Hell by Kimberly Davidson.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Drunk and Stupid

Society’s Myth: If I’m feeling anxious or am in pain the only solution is to dull it with a substance.

Friday night…Barney’s Bar & Grill…downtown Cedar Rapids…that’s where you’d find me. Barney’s was my Cheers; a place where I belonged; a place where I could sing and laugh; a place where I could get smashed and not be judged by other drunks. On this particular night a parental figure, concerned for my safety, gave me twenty dollars and told me to take a cab home. He made me promise. Of course I will! Take one guess where the money went.

The lights flickered on and off to the sound of, “We’re closing. Time to go!” I staggered to my car, a brand new Olds Cutlass which belonged to my employer. Unfortunately, unlike many other Friday nights, I located the car, got in, started the engine, and aimed for home.

A light turned red. I failed to stop. Crunch! Bang! I hit the truck in front of me. A man in his thirties emerged and appeared fine. His bumper took the brunt of the impact. However, the entire front end of my new company car was damaged extensively. A police officer arrived on the scene…and he wasn’t in a pleasant mood. He had come from another alcohol related accident which involved a fatality. Sobbing, I pleaded, “I live only two blocks away. You can take me home. …Please!” He didn’t accommodate my request. I went through the usual booking process and was then led to my cell for the night. I cried myself to sleep. When I woke in the morning I met two young women in the next cell who also were charged with DUI. They placated my guilt and shame for the moment. Then the time came to stroll next door for arraignment. Hand cuffed and completely humiliated, I conformed to the rules so I’d be released as quickly as possible. A first time offender, I was riddled with guilt and anxiety—guilt about what had happened and anxiety about my future. Trouble had only begun. A whole assemblage of stressors waited in line ready to wreak havoc.

As I look back to the countless times I drove drunk, I am truly blessed I never killed or severely hurt anyone. God had been very gracious. There is no such thing as karma, luck, or coincidence in the Christian life. If God is in control of everything, then what appears to be karma, luck, or coincidence is really a divine appointment made by God. It is no accident that today I teach and minister to women in a federal prison. My soul-hole was deep and stressed out. Because I chose not to fill it with Almighty God, I continued to live in the dark and in bondage. I drank in a futile attempt to self-medicate. Over the years friends called me on my bad behavior. My response, “I was drunk.” In other words, I’m not accountable for my actions! Addiction alters the brain chemistry affecting the process of thought and decision making. Denial, minimization, and justification are common.

There was no joy, no hope; only fear and self-condemnation. The shame kept feeding every destructive behavior: the bulimia, drunkenness, and promiscuity, which continued to feed the shame, fueling a never-ending cycle over which I had no control. Asking for help meant admitting I failed. People would see me as a phony. It felt safer to wear a mask of secrecy and deception.

The apostle John said, “People who do what is wrong hate the light and don’t come to the light. They don’t want their actions to be exposed” (John 3:20, GW). Long term recovery is possible with our great Physician. After surgically repairing my heart and mind, I eventually healed after twenty years of substance abuse (to alcohol, laxatives, diet, caffeine pills). Never give up, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Facing temptation is unavoidable. Even Noah, a God-fearing man, wasn’t immune. We find in Genesis 9:20-25, Noah, the man who walked with God and did all he commanded, laid drunk and uncovered in his tent.

After the account of the Flood and the divine promise given through a rainbow, why did the author include a story of drunken stupor, sexual immodesty, family shame, and a curse? Why didn’t the writer take a red pencil and “x” it out. What I know is, “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There must be a moral and spiritual lesson for us.

In this story we’re reminded of mankind’s heart condition toward dysfunction. God saved Noah and his family, but salvation is not the same as transformation. Believers still fall into sin. We are not guaranteed of instant holiness when we say yes to Jesus Christ. It is the beginning of a journey into spiritual growth and godliness called sanctification.

Noah reminds us that we’re all sinners and mortal. Growing certainly involves an obedient response. But the Christian life isn’t about God barking orders from on high and we dutifully obey…or else. Rather, we choose to be obedient as our hearts and minds are changed by his grace.

Another reason for including the text might have been to highlight the consequences to Noah’s behavior. Noah’s grandson, Ham, and his descendants are cursed for his actions. As my life story illustrates, there are always consequences to destructive actions. We should understand our roots. Some of us inherited our troubles. Alcoholism frequently recurs in one’s children despite evidence that addictive behavior is not inherited. Children of alcoholics, for example, often become alcoholics because their parents modeled addictive behavior. “Monkey see, monkey do.” Many substance and behavioral addictions are passed on from generation to generation. It will continue until the behavior is stopped permanently.

God is the only one “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things” (Psalm 103:3-5).

This is an excerpt from the book "Something Happened On My Way To Hell" by author Kimberly Davidson

Friday, May 17, 2013

Transform Your Thinking

In a recent Huffington Post blog entitled, “Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness: Trends That Could Change Everything,” the author, Flynn Coleman, made a proposal to readers. Coleman, a mindfulness consultant, lawyer, yoga teacher and founder of SAMYA Practice, said, “Mindfulness can change the world.” She went on to explain that by teaching and practicing the tenants of mindfulness in every aspect of life and at every level—personal, institutional, societal and global—the entire world could be positively transformed. That’s exactly what the Bible says: Be transformed by renewing your mind (Romans 12:2).

Whenever people try to make changes in their lives, there is a tendency to start out well but they end up doing exactly what they do not want to do. The apostle Paul experienced this in, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Like us, Paul struggled with his human nature. If we can stop the negativity going on in our heads, we can also stop our negative behaviors; therefore, we are not helpless nor are we captive to our genetics or predispositions over which we have no power. Instead, we have the power to change and stop the cycle of destructive behaviors and attitudes.

When the apostle Paul wrote "be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2) he knew God would not have told us this if God didn’t give us the ability to do it. To renew our mind is to begin to replace all the faulty thinking, the lies and misbeliefs, with truth—with the Word of God. This is exactly what Paul was talking about when he wrote in Philippians 4:8, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." [It is noteworthy that he wrote this while in prison under conditions that would make any normal person depressed!]

God gives us the ability to think like this. Think of your brain like a snowy hill in winter. Aspects of that hill—the slope, the rocks, the consistency of the snow are a given—like our DNA and family history. When we slide down on a sled, we can steer it and will end up at the bottom of the hill by following a path determined both by how we steer and the characteristics of the hill. Where exactly we will end up is hard to predict because there are so many factors in play.

What will definitely happen the second time you take the slope down is that you will more likely than not find yourself somewhere or another that is related to the path you took the first time. It won’t be exactly that path, but it will be closer to that one than any other. If you spend your entire afternoon sledding down, walking up, sledding down, at the end you will have some paths that have been used a lot, some that have been used very little…and there will be tracks that you have created, and it is very difficult now to get out of those tracks.

We all have mental tracks that get laid down. They can lead to good habits or bad habits. It is possible to get out of those old tracks and start new ones. It can be difficult because once we have created these tracks, they become “really speedy” and very efficient at guiding the sled down the hill. Our usual obstacle is giving up familiarity and comfort. Additionally, stress, fatigue, and not having basic needs met, will tempt us to stay on the same course.

Every day we make thousands of choices. Much of what we do comes from habitual behaviors. Most of our decisions are made by our unconscious. We gravitate towards familiarity; even though it may be unhealthy, it is comfortable. To take a different path becomes increasingly difficult unless a roadblock of some kind is put in the path to help us change direction.

It works this way: You have a thought. Your brain releases chemicals which can be emotionally toxic or not. An electrical transmission goes across your brain. Then you become aware of what you’re thinking. Thoughts stimulate emotions that result in an attitude which finally produces behavior. Allowing our minds to dwell on envy, lust, greed, or revenge only leads to bad behavior. All negative or wrong behavior starts with that one thought. Ongoing negative behavior eventually wreaks havoc on our minds and bodies.

When we become aware of a negative thought, we have a choice: to let it go through or put up a road block. The answer: put up a road block. Where do we get this road block? The living Word of God. It’s the God tool we use to erect a road block.

Eugene Peterson, The Message, paraphrases 2 Corinthian 10:5-6, “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” The NIV Bible says, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” That means we interrogate it and toss it out, or let the thought through.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Identify Insatiable Cravings

Psalm 4:6-7: “Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say. “More, more.” I have God’s more-than-enough, More joy in one ordinary day” (The Message)

It has been said that to be alive is to be addicted; that life in America is so stressful that it is impossible not to become addicted to some object. One Christian psychiatrist suggests “we are all addicts in every sense of the word.” Behind every craving is a compelling urge to pursue pleasure—to feel terrific while avoiding pain, physically and emotionally. From the brain’s perspective, whatever we do to produce feelings of euphoria, is worth repeating. Ultimately, we end up mastered by those things.

Our objective is to examine everything in our lives that has taken on significant meaning—things we believe give us purpose, meaning and value; things we sense are “a chasing of the wind.” I suggest you start to create a list of your habits. Putting your thoughts to paper will help you see the big picture.

1. Write down what you perceive to be the most frequent negative things you do. Think about the things that have become distractions from God. Note the obvious ones. Discovering the less obvious ones will require time.

2. Observe your habits closely. As you go about your day ask yourself these questions: “What activities take up most of my time?” “What do I think about most of the day?” For example,
• How many hours do I watch television or Netflix?
• How long do I exercise each day (or not exercise)?
• How much time do I spend on the Internet? List the sites you frequently visit. • How often do I check my phone in one hour?
• How often do I eat? What types of foods do I eat?
• What else do I ingest beside food?
• Who do I spend most of my time with?
• How do I handle stress, worry, or chaos?
• How do I feel emotionally most of my day?
• How much time do I spend with God each day?
• What do I think about myself?
• What does God think about me?

This is a good start. If possible, ask your spouse, significant other, close friends, and/or family to share their observations. This requires honesty. They may not want to hurt your feelings. Tell them you desire an honest answer and won’t get upset. Remain calm.

3. Make a commitment to regularly examine those things in your life that tend to take on enormous meaning. Then ask yourself, “Where is God in this?”

4. I suggesting praying and journaling through your emotions:
• What am I feeling? What am I reacting to?
• How am I responding to my interpretation of the situation?
• What are my options? Listen to God and to what others have taught you.
• Weighing all options, I choose to…

5. List the personal traits you want to change first. Go back to your answers from the “Pre-Study Exercise.” Pray over the areas in your life where you feel enslaved. It helps to focus on changing one area at a time. Ask God to reveal the area he desires to begin working on first.

6. Be patient and give yourself time. God’s timetable will most likely be slower than yours. Depend on God for the power to change, but don’t expect him to miraculously change your personality and behaviors. Changing engrained traits takes time.

This is an excerpt from the book "Something Happened On My Way To Hell" by author Kimberly Davidson

Saturday, May 11, 2013

“Fat”--A Fate Worse Than Death: Addicted to Food and Body Image

The reflection in the mirror illuminates a grossly unattractive, unfit, fat person. One night I purge in the restroom after eating an enormous dinner with friends. Later, I sneak potato chips and cookies into my bedroom and eat both bags when everyone has gone to bed, and then carefully hide the wrappers. The next day I starve myself by ingesting only a couple hundred calories. I think constantly about my body and diet regimen. This is a story about a monster that sneaks up on the struggling princess. It covertly and subtly destroys her. It began as a diet and a battle with the mirror. Decades later she realizes who and what the monster is…and who and what her Prince is.

◄► Seventeen years old, at five feet, four inches, and 140 pounds, society labeled me “chunky.” As women, we’re vulnerable to competitive standards and comparisons. We compare ourselves all the time and come up feeling inadequate. After seeing a photo of myself I agreed, “I look like a whale! I’m going on a diet.” From that day forward I chose what I put inside my mouth. I worked towards a goal weight and lost a healthy two pounds per week.

My parents were proud of me. I was proud of me. Boys noticed me. It seemed I had power over others when they’d ask me how I managed to lose weight. Like millions of other dieters, I liked receiving compliments and praise in my search for approval and love. My soul craved acceptance. I didn’t have anything in my life I excelled at. I failed at playing a musical instrument. I didn’t date. My grades were average. I didn’t belong to the popular girls’ group…but I excelled at dieting. This kind of admiration is hard to give up. Soon my weight and number of consumed calories became my identity…and an obsession. I’d wake up each morning looking forward to manipulating that day’s diet plan. And I started smoking cigarettes in an effort to cut my appetite.

Then something snapped. Conscious of our weight, my friend and I felt miserable, physically and emotionally, after gorging on left-overs from her parent’s dinner party. She said, “I know how we can feel better and not gain any weight. Stick your finger down your throat until you throw up all the food.” Nirvana! Now I can eat anything I want and stay skinny! This is bulimia. From that day forward, life spiraled out of control. Eventually I reached my revised goal weight of ninety-eight pounds.

After five agonizing years, I graduated from college and landed a coveted sales position in the pharmaceutical industry. My life looked great on the outside. But inside, the battle with this life-zapping monster raged on. Completely powerless over this parasite, my friendships, my work, my entire life, continued to unravel. I held a secret no one could know.

Isn’t it interesting that the very desires which lead to our ruin start as healthy longings? Pure desires such as the need to feel joy, love, approval, security, to eat and enjoy sex, can become polluted. This is what the power of sin does. We can look at our motives and see bliss, when, in fact, destruction is lurking in our blind spots. Think about your desires. Could they be manifested in some type of harmful behavior?

Excessive dieting, in this culture, is a metaphor for social acceptability. It is also an attempt to manage an uncontrollable life. The root of disordered eating is a need for control, for some kind of order. The person uses their obsession with food as a means to gain back control and order which they somehow feel has been taken from them or lost. It may also be a distraction because they feel inadequate or have low self-esteem or suffer from severe depression, anger, anxiety, or loneliness.

We develop a need to control in order to protect ourselves from pain. If you were abused in any form, constantly rejected, experienced a great loss, or had an addicted and/or controlling parent, you probably felt unable to manage your circumstances. In an effort to curb the frustration and deaden the pain you turned to food, a substance, exercise, or another outlet. I figured since I’d already experienced betrayal, loss, and disappointment, why risk more? A relationship with food or a substance is safer. A personal prison is safer.

We believe we’re calling the shots, but we’re not. Temporary fixes only hide the truth about the source of the pain. When we finally recognize we’re imperfect and desire power over each situation, we can begin to release control back to God. Then we’re less likely to use food, or any other substance or behavior, to plug the hole in our soul. Try it. Pray about it. A huge burden will be lifted off your shoulders. Over time, balance and stability can be restored to your life.

Meditate on God’s Promise: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).

This is an excerpt from the book Something Happened On My Way To Hell"" by author Kimberly Davidson