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Addiction is not about the substance, it has more to do with this…

One in five Canadians are experiencing a mental health or addiction problem.  In fact, people struggling with mental health are two times as likely to have a substance abuse problem coinciding (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 2017).  Why is that and what can we do about it?

Addiction doesn’t start when substance is used.  Addiction starts in the brain, where the environment that surrounds that person at home, work, school has literally shaped that person’s mind. In last week’s post, I talked about how the family literally determines the mindset of children.  You can see more of that post here.  Our responses to stress influence us and our children.  When parents are stressed or anxious, this decreases an infant’s ability to regulate their own mind as well.  This is not to give addiction the excuse,  “I had poor regulation due to my environment”, but only reveal that addiction is not just about making a decision about whether to have a drink or not, or whether to smoke weed or not.  Every addiction has brain chemistry behind it.

Self regulation is not defined as “good behaviour”, but as mind integration; where there is balance between all of the mind’s functions of fight or flight, problem solving, creativity, differentiation (where others emotions do not define your own), etc.  Self regulation depends highly on environment.  A person with good regulation does not shift up and down dramatically from emotion to emotion, but is able to overcome when life’s challenges come their way.  This is called resilience.  When a person suffers with a disregulated mind, their emotional life and behavior can seem out of control.  Much of what is hindered is in the prefrontal cortex, where our ability to creatively problem solve and learn social interaction comes from.  When someone is disregulated, they may struggle socially, which ironically is exactly what they need in order to escape addiction.  Research showed in rats with destroyed frontal cortex’s were only able to function immaturely, showed signs of impulsive aggression and being sexually inappropriate.  The disfunction in the mind is what opens the path to addictive behaviors, not because the person woke up wanting to be addicted, but because the pain caused by the dysfunction and the irregulated mind pushed them towards it.  All because of one thing:

DOPE

Dopamine, where we get an old slang word for marijuana, is the key chemical in the mind involved in addiction.  All addictions seek to appease it.  Dopamine is about feeling the reward of stimulating what a disregulated mind is missing: connection.  But because of poor Prefrontal Cortex  development or damage, social skills are lacking to create this.  Substances don’t require social skills.  In fact, they promise to assist with it, or so it seems.  These “substances” that increase the dopamine in the mind don’t have to be drugs or alcohol, they can be anything we attach to to give us that “fix” such as shopping, eating, sugar, sex, extreme sports, instagram likes, video games; all of these activate the same chemical dope that drug and alcohol addictions do.  And the more you fill the brain’s chemicals need with your substance of choice, the more it will need next time to get that fix of dopamine released in the mind.  What’s even crazier; dopamine release acts even before the partaking of the substance.  It is arroused even with familiar sights and smells that signal to the brain that your drug is near.  And we wonder why it’s so hard to quit?  That chemical wants to be satisfied and is literally playing with your mind till you get it.

It’s not about what your drug is, it’s about the dope you seek to fill what is lacking in the mind that wasn’t provided in your environment.

And so the cycle repeats: The environment that shaped your brain regulation that caused the need for dopamine increase in your mind that initated your addiction has now led to a creation of the environment you are creating that only continues to damage your decision making abilities and shape your disregulated mind into needing more dope, feeding more addiction.  And around and around we go.   “It’s sometimes like with my addiction…. I’m a child not released” (from In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate).

See how it’s not as easy as just going into rehab, or vowing to quit?

We’re not addicted to substance, we’re addicted to the brain chemical called dopamine and it is ruthless.

All is not lost, however.  If healthy environment created by loving connection can cause the brain to be regulated, then you and I have a powerful tool.  If we are willing to work on the environments we are creating around people, there is hope for US to be the dope others need.  I always tell parents with young children; YOU are your child’s dope.  Just like substances release dopamine in the mind, so does a loving parent looking into the eyes of their child.  It’s all they need.  It’s all we all need; to feel the warm effects of belonging to appease the brain chemical in the way it was meant to be satisfied.  This keeps addiction at bay.  Supportive friendships and healthy communities are the real dope we long for.  When we provide that for one another, social issues like addiction don’t stand a chance.

Community is powerful.

Some local Calgary artists and I are making an impact on mental health and addiction in a way you wouldn’t expect, through the sounds of jazz fused with hip hop for the show, Attached, at the Big Secret Theatre June 8-11, 2017.

These young artists are passionate about using their art to inspire social change.  The original musical score has been composed by Haven Vanguard, a collective of three young men ages 22-25.  “When we started composing the main body of music for the show, I was in a dark point in my life.  The songs I have written were inspired by these dark times turned hopeful”, says Timothonius Alai, Haven Vanguard. The lyrics from young spoken word and rap artists ages 23-28 contain raw, personal stories of addiction.  “Creating authentic art with a tribe is the best way to understand and heal suffering.”, says Braden Lyster, one of the show’s rap artists. “I believe the genuine honesty and self reflection of our human experience will be as powerful for every audience member as it has been for us”, Zoe Shusar, cast member. “This show has helped me find peace with my own mental health”, Vila Chanthaboula, Spoken Word artist in the show.

People struggling with mental health are two times as likely to have a substance abuse problem coinciding (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 2017).  We are tired of bandaids.  In this show, we bring our audience back to experience our humanity in community.

A special Social Impact Matinee of the show will happen on Sunday, June 11 at 2pm featuring panelists: David C Bonk (Social Impact Entreprenurs),  Kotaro Kajita (John Howard Society), Carissa Muth (Psychologist), Patricia Morgan (Author of “Love Her As She Is” – a story of her journey through her daughter’s addiction), Gerry Melsted (Executive Director Recovering Acres).  This special matinee is to give the audience a chance to interact with community heroes who are working in the mental health/addiction field on the daily.

The cast not only seeks to inspire the audience through the show but also through follow up resources after the show such as a psycho-ed session with Psychologist and Attachment Therapist, Carissa Muth, and a retreat led by one of the artists in the show, Krizia Carlos, who is also a mental health nurse advocating for art therapy in mental health.  The show will also be fundraising for Recovering Acres, a place where men and women can recover from addictions.

For more information about the show, please contact me at mpactmovement@gmail.com or the ticket link on our website by clicking here.

 

 

How your parenting NOW can save your child from addiction

help meWe as parents have the capacity to make a difference in our children and see them live a life free of addiction.  What I’m about to write it’s going to be hard to read.  Believe me, it was hard to write.  To bring freedom from shame, I am going to be very open about my failures as a parent.  Resilience in our children isn’t created through perfect parenting but in the repair after relational ruptures.

When a child is born, the interaction between mother and infant literally forms their brain development.  This brain development at birth and even while in the mother’s womb is the key to determine whether this new baby will be vulnerable to addictive behaviors in the future.  It has been believed that addiction is the fault of the substance alone, but research has shown that the cause of addiction largely has to do with the experience in early childhood, states Dr. Felitti.  This isn’t to take genes out of the equation, or take away responsibility for the addict’s actions, but to reveal the power environment has on brain development which as we will see, plays a large role in addiction.

The brain is developed through our experience.  Good experiences lead to a healthy brain.  The opposite delays brain development and increases coritsol.  Cortisol depletes ability to process emotions, a very important brain function in learning to cope with stress.  If this remains absent, vulnerability to addiction is high.  Remember addiction doesn’t always means drugs or alcohol; it’s anything we do to seek to regulate our minds and numb the pain from the void of dis-attachment with caregivers.  Addiction can mean shopping, video games, workaholism, people pleasing….

“A child needs an attachment relationship with at least one reliably available, protective, psychologically present non stressed adult” – Gabor Mate.  Ummm…. is it just me, or does any parent out there fit that description??!  Emotionally nurturing, present, non stressed parents today are hard to find. I know I fall short of this on the daily.  Many parents are under enormous pressure to work to be able to live in today’s economy.  They come home exhausted from life with sometimes little left to give our young ones.  It’s an injustice parents feel in their bones and most would change it in a moment if they could.

Children learn how to handle stress from their parents.  We are the ones who help organize our children’s brains.  Whoever thought that was a good idea?? Most days I miss the mark on this.  My children’s younger years consisted of me flying off the handle having no idea what their ADHD brains needed from me.  I would send them to their rooms and tell them they could come out when they were ready to be good.  I didn’t know any better, as I was just going on how I was raised.  I didn’t know that by bringing them closer instead of sending them away, their brains could regulate and be nourished.

Infants need to be picked up, consoled and comforted.  This important nurturing teaches their brains to regulate.  Predicability in the adult to manage their environment is key to develop a resilience to how to handle stress when they get older.  A child who is stressed as an infant will grow to overreact and will struggle with anxiety. When given the choice to numb through a substance, a disregulated mind will more easily choose the substance to ease the discomfort. “From early infancy, it appears our ability to regulate emotional states depends upon the experience of feeling that a significant person in our life is simultaneously experiencing a similar state of mind” – Daniel Seigel.

Having a parent around is not enough.  Parents feeling love for their children isn’t enough.  Parents can be physically present but not there emotionally. What is needed is attunement.  Attunement is being tuned in to your child’s mind and emotional state.  Children need to feel understood by their parents.  Too many times we as parents are trying to get our children to understand us.  A disregulated mind in a child is crying out constantly: help me!  Please understand me and help me sort this out.  Don’t judge, criticize or condemn me.  Don’t push me away, bring me closer and let me know it’s going to be ok.  Don’t look at my outside behavior, look to inside of me.  Every parent loves their child deeply.  This needs to be expressed through consistent, emotionally stable connection in order for it to be felt by the child.  This regulates their brain and develops the prefrontal cortex – the problem solving, reasoning part of of the mind which also holds the ability to empathize.  I regret how busy I was in the early years of my first born. I was trying so hard to prove to myself and the world I could be a mom and still be a rock star.  My intention towards my son to be the best mother was present, but my distraction spoke volumes to him as well.

You could say we have an epidemic of prefrontal cortex under-development in our society because disregulation is rampant among children today.  Empathy isn’t coming natural, children are less flexible.  Healthy brain integration needed for love, connection, and motivation depend on the quality of attunement parenting. When a child doesn’t feel secure or is in a consistent stressful environment, the brain doesn’t create what is needed for healthy regulation.  The nurture we give as parents will influence how much serotonin the brain develops.  Serotonin is needed to balance mood.  Research also shows that stressed or depressed parents pass on negative emotional patterns to their children.  That one was hard for me to read.  When both my children were born, I struggled with depression afterwards. I wasn’t rational sometimes and that caused an inconsistent, stressful environment.  I can’t turn back time and make it right.  It is what it is.  It can be disheartening to read studies such as this, especially when you see the effects in your children like I have.  I see the lack of regulation in the prefrontal cortex.  My oldest has to take medication to help his serotonin levels.  I remember crying over pages of my research and feeling such shame.  But then I heard a voice whisper: “BUT GOD”.  I may not be able to mend that season of my life and what I passed to my children but I believe that having faith in Someone greater puts hope back into the equation.  Research and science are a gift to know what we need to do to improve our society, but it doesn’t get the final say.  Hope restores and makes things right. I have full faith in that.  And the decisions I am making now based on this knowledge are making certain my children’s future is full of hope.  Nothing is ever final.  There is always hope to restore and change things.

What we need is to call parents back to the plate.  To take our place as the nurturers in our children’s lives.  This hasn’t decreased because parents don’t want to, but because we have no blinkin’ clue HOW to.  Not only that, with the absence of a village parents are left to figure all of this out on our own, and we were never meant to.

How we parent our children now will make a difference in the face of addiction in the future.  That isn’t to say that all addiction comes from lack of attuned parenting, but the truth that we can do our best to help regulate our children’s minds by connecting with them can make a world of difference. “Addiction isn’t so much a substance abuse, but a learning disorder.  When children don’t learn how to regulate through attuned relationship with their parents they use other methods” – Shelby Leiding.

And remember, resilience doesn’t come from getting this parent thing right, but in the repair when our relationship with our children has experienced a rupture. Saying a genuine “sorry” and making things right, speaking words of blessing and reminding our children of their worth is more than enough and is something we all can do on the daily.

These blog posts on addiction are leading up to a show I am doing on the topic at the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary June 8-11, 2017. You can find out more information at this link.  I’ve never been interested in talking about the bandaids we put on social issues such as addiction.  No one woke up wanting to become an addict, so why does one out of five Canadians struggle with a mental health or addiction problem?! (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). My goal is always to dig deeper, much deeper into the issue to see where the problem and SOLUTION lies.  This particular one on parenting and family relationships isn’t spoken of much.  You don’t hear about solving family problems as a way of preventing addiction, but I believe this may be one of the most important things we can do as a society is create opportunity for families to be connected and healthy.  This coming year I will be starting a new adventure to do what I can to create health for families.  If this interests you for your school, workplace or just in general, please contact me at culturerebelonline@gmail.com.

For more information on Canadian Stats on mental health and addiction, visit this link

The real issue of addiction is not the addiction. It’s this.

addictionNo one dreams of becoming an addict as a child.  No one woke up one morning saying to themselves, “I think I’m going to become an alcoholic today.”  So then why does it happen?

I know for myself, it happened suddenly when my family was facing a crisis that I didn’t know how to handle.  It seemed all hope was lost.  I couldn’t face the pain, so each night after my family went to bed, I downed a large glass of whiskey to knock myself out.  I did this for a year.  I’ll never forget hearing a voice inside me say, “Would you like to deal with your addiction?”  Instantly I went into justifying why I didn’t have an addiction; “I’m a good person”, “I speak about resilience for a living, there’s no way I have an addiction”.  When I finally broke down, I found myself saying, “Ok maybe I am struggling with it, but I have a good reason! I’m helpless right now!”  Addiction can always be justified by the one struggling.

But I did.  Lucky for me I chose to be brave to admit it, find support and haven’t had a problem since.  It surprised me that I could fall easily into addictions trap.  It was humbling to think that someone with education, a good upbringing and purpose could find myself there.

But it’s easier than we think.

Addiction is there when we are needing relief.  It becomes our way of redeeming ourselves, to numb the pain, to escape despair.

“My question is never why the addiction, but why the pain?”, Gabor Mate.  Trying to solve addiction is barking up the wrong tree.  No one wants to find themselves emerged in addiction, so when they end up at the end of a bottle that doesn’t end one needs to ask what is that person trying to numb or escape from?  There you find your solution to addiction.  All addictions start with pain whether the person is aware of it or not.

Think about it, why would anyone put themselves or people closest to them at risk over a hit?  Whatever situation drove them to that addiction is louder than anything.  They need to forget and nothing will sway them; not the threat of death, not potentially losing family and friends.  This itself should speak volumes to how far down pain’s path that person must be in order to forfeit such valuable things in life.  What they need is to be brought back to hope and life, not judged and told to “get it together”.

Before we are all quick to judge the addict, how many of us have found ourselves “needing” a glass of wine at the end of a hard day to “take the edge off” or feeling the need to smoke a joint in order to ease anxiety or social interactions?  We may not be overdosing on the street, but the root that we all feel is the same: someone or something please take away my discomfort!  The sad thing is that it works.  It not only takes away the pain, but also helps the world become full of excitement for a short moment in time.  That in itself is addicting.

“It makes me brave in ways I can’t be without it”, I once heard someone say of marijuana.  Is the issue weed?  No.  The issue is someone doesn’t feel they are enough.  They believe they are not brave and need something outside of themselves to create it for them.  “Nothing bothers me when I’m high. There’s no stress in my life”.

“The reason I do drugs is so I don’t feel the feelings I feel when I don’t do drugs”. “I’m not afraid of dying, sometimes I’m more afraid of living”, said a few clients from rehab.

It is the role of culture to help its members know how to deal with pain and suffering.  Our culture has no idea how to deal with suffering.  Without direct words, we drive people into isolation only to resurface with their remarkable story of transformation, which usually is still only a mask over the pain that leads to further pain and possible addiciton.

“No society can understand itself without looking at it’s shadow” (Gabor Mate).  It’s time we get real about our pain and be able to embrace hearing about other’s suffering as well.   Never underestimate the power of vulnerable, safe community. It exposes shame that drove us to the addictive behavior and heals us because pain is healed through connection.  Pain is also prevented through loving connection.

“Confess your struggles to one another and you will be healed”.  You and I can be someone’s courage by our listening, supportive ears.  Every time we make sure our loved ones are cared for and loved, we are solving the issue of addiction.

One of my greatest passions is to create safe spaces for people to be courageous about their struggles that brings people together into community that heals.  One of the ways I do this is through my annual shows where my goal is to take the audience from “oh those people” to “Oh my, me too”. There’s power when we can empathize with those struggling.  It means there is hope for restoration.  My next show, Attached, which is all about addiction seeks to do just that.  It’s playing at the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary, AB June 8-11.  If you’re in the area, I would love to have you come.  You can find tickets and more information by clicking here.

 

How to work with a child with difficult behaviour

bigstock-angry-child-yelling-58855205-514x342I have two boys, both of which have ADHD.  My oldest son has anxiety/depression, asbergers, and has also been given a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which I personally do not believe exists.  There are indeed children with a good dose of counterwill (Gordon Neufeld), but regarding ODD, what a horrible label to give a child.  What does that speak?  “You are oppositional, you are defiant, you have a disorder.” It’s interesting that if you put any child with ODD in a room by themselves they show no symptoms of it.  That’s because it’s an emotional, behavioral reaction to environment.

For years we struggled with how to work with our oldest son.  Yelling matches, frustration, hurtful words, despair, battles for control, shame… these were experienced on the daily.  It was a desperate time.  I had no idea how to parent my son, and I know that my lack of knowledge and skill only spiralled my son further down into his mental torment.  It’s humbling to reflect back.

Does this sound familiar to you?  I want to pass on some tangible, simple things I have learned that have changed my parenting.  I’m not perfect at this in the least, but I can say I’ve made significant gains.

Here it is.  Plain, simple, and strait forward.

1.Realize that underneath a child’s behaviour (or anyone’s for that matter) is an underlying emotion that is driving it.  

I’ll give you an example.  My oldest son had a friend over.  The friend introduced himself to my youngest son, who then insulted him right to his face, really hurting his feelings.  Is my youngest son mean?  No.  So why would he say something so horrible without even knowing this boy?  We had to get curious as to why so we could work with the root, rather than just go after the behavior.  Looking deeper we were reminded that our youngest son has had to deal with the rejection of his older brother and his friends.  Insulting a new friend was our child’s way of protecting himself.  He was going to reject before he could get rejected.

In the past I would respond out of my emotion: “I can’t believe you were so mean to that boy!”, would be a long the lines of my normal reaction.  This reaction, which is probably natural for most of us, doesn’t get to the root of the problem and only drives the child further into shame. He’s most likely to repeat the behavior because he hasn’t been given any tools to change, other than to likely hide his behavior from me if he can in the future.

I guarantee you that no child wakes up wanting to make mistakes or fail miserably.  No one wakes up wanting to throw fits of rage or be too stubborn to work with.  Underneath behaviour is something waiting to be discovered by us.  If we go after behavior alone, all our children learn is to hide from us.  But if we can get curious about what’s driving the behavior, our children will feel SEEN.  Who doesn’t thrive under feeling understood?  It’s an amazing foundation to build from.

2. Identify what you believe is the driving emotion behind their behavior.

To use the example of my youngest son, “Chris I can understand you’re used to Ben and his friends not wanting you around and that hurts your feelings doesn’t it?  Does that make you sad?”  Daniel Siegal calls this “name it to tame it”. By identifying with their emotion we are helping them learn to identify emotions.  This also helps them learn to manage their emotions. This attachment gives them the security to know they are safe to learn how to navigate their emotional world and that we are here to guide them along the way.  I now often identify the emotion behind the behaviour and then hold my child till I feel their anger or frustration melt.

Taking my past response of, “I can’t believe you would say something like that!”, only escalates his fight or flight emotional state and he’s left to his own wits end to calm himself down, which usually doesn’t happen easily.  He never learns to navigate his own emotional world, causing his emotional responses to grow in length and intensity as he gets older.

3. Ask your child what was happening in the moment of their behavior.

Key: do not do this in the climax of the behavior.  During these episodes, our children are not in their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain at the forehead that helps us with problem solving.  They are in the back of the brain, the fight or flight section of the brain that does not reason.  Ask this after they have calmed down.  They may not know what was happening inside them, which is ok, but sometimes they can tell us what was really happening.  This is wonderful, because they feel listened to and are learning to verbalize their internal world.

Reminder: we are our child’s navigation to work out their internal world.  This means we need to be willing to be brave with our internal worlds.  How can we help our children navigate their emotions when we’re raging and lashing out ourselves?  This has been a great challenge for me to overcome in the past few years.  I’m encouraged to see years of intentionally working on this starting to pay off.  It’s one thing to have the knowledge of what to do, it’s another thing to actually do it.  I really does take intention and focus on our part to change our habits.  Yelling for me has been a hard habit to break.

4. Don’t just say “no”, say “yes” to something else.

This is where we want to confirm our values.  “Chris, in this house we do not hurt with our words”.  But instead of just ending there, we need to give them something they can do.  Children with ADHD find this particularly hard.  They really want to follow through, but lack the wiring of the neurons to do so.  We can come alongside and help them rewire so problem solving and new patterns can arise.  For example, “Chris, what do you think we can do next time Ben has a friend over to help you feel more secure?”.  Help with the solution if needed, but the important thing is you’re talking openly about the real problem which makes your child feel secure enough to be able to grow in their mental health.

Did you notice there was no typical discipline involved in this?  Most of the time I’ve noticed with my boys that by the time I’ve gone through all these steps, I haven’t yelled once or given every consequence I can think of.

I’ll never forget when a psychologist asked me what I would do when my oldest son would throw fits of rage.  I told her I would send my son to his room, reminding him when he was ready to be a “good boy” he could come out.  This was considered a good way of parenting in my mind.  She gently shook her head and stated, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you; you bring them closer”.  This statement has rocked my inner world. First of all, I never realized my son was hurting.  All I saw was his raw edges and violence.  I also have seen the amazing transformation that can happen when I’m willing to be with my son in his mess.  It’s easy to say, very hard to do. I have realized how disturbed I am with emotions such as anger.  I just wanted to send him and his anger away.  To this day I am disrupted in my mind by anger.  I’ve had to learn to manage my anxiety so I can manage the anxiety in my son.

Being with my children in their distress and mess has done wonders for the amount of time it takes them to settle.  I used to battle with them for hours. Now, if I just invest 10 minutes to listen and hold them, I find it can be over that quick.  I wanted to pass this on to any parent or teacher in the struggle as it’s helped me enormously.

So friends, be brave to be with yourself in your own mess and in your children’s. We won’t get it right every time.  It’s ok, that’s not the point.  The point is to protect connection with our children and that we are vulnerable enough to try.

An ex-pastors conversation with her psychic-loving friend about peace

peace-candleThank you for joining me on my journey through advent.  I probably didn’t go in order.  I’ve always been a little unorthodox…

I had a friend call me recently asking me to pray for him.  His psychic told him he was spiritually off centre.  This left him disturbed, as he felt he was doing ok; mediating every morning, chakra’s functioning, in fact, he felt like he was in a great space.  This brought much confusion.  I prayed for him and told him what so many in our world seem to need to hear:

It is finished.  And you can’t finish it any more than it’s already finished.

What’s finished?  Let me get to that in a moment, but first another story.  Over coffee another friend shares with me that no matter how much she does for God, she never feels good enough; never secure in her faith. She is scared to death of God’s judgment and being sent strait to hell for never getting this “Jesus thing” right.  I told her the exact same thing I told my energy-loving friend:

It is finished.  And you can’t finish it any more than it’s already finished.

Both my friends responded the same: there must be something I have to do in order to make myself right.  As I would call it, some hoop to jump through.  The ultimate test of faith is to believe that when the baby in the manger died and resurrected, all was finished.  Peace was brought between God and man.  Peace for the troubled soul in torment with itself.

“I was raised by the gospel of fear”, I once heard a young man say.  From my experience being a gypsy in this world floating between a sub-culture of church and the  liberal artsy types, I see fear speaking everywhere.  Fear whispers to us of our inadequacy.  It lies to us, telling us there must be more we can do to gain that place of “enough”; more meditation, more focus on the chakra’s, more prayer, get to church more, manifest more, do more, be more…

More hoops, more and more hoops.  Dance monkey dance.

Two different belief systems, yet still struggling with the same roots of fear and shame.  Yet it is finished.  It’s already been won.  The prison doors are open and we’re still inside.

Peace has come as a person and finished it all.  There is now peace between God and man but only the awake see it.  “There is now no punishment for those who are In Christ”, I read.  Many of us view punishment through the lense of the fires of hell we heard about through the man yelling on the soap box, but I beg that God goes far beyond just that and says; you are free from the torment you put on yourself to reach me.

He speaks, “I’ve already reached you”.

No punishment.  No fear, no shame.  I am yours and you are mine.  Nothing can reverse it, it is finished, for those who are In Christ.  “What does In Christ mean?”  God gives us the gift of this life to figure that out.  “He who started a work in you will be faithful to complete it”.  He gives me a crown too big and gives me grace to grow up into it.  Do we trust Jesus to be more than just a guilt remover?

His message has been reduced to sin management when it was meant to be a loud announcement of freedom.  This peace with God has no borders.  It stretches to the transgender, the buddhist, the hindu, the atheist, the energy-loving, the Christian.  It reaches past who we think deserves it or who can grasp it and shocks us every time.

We’ve had it mixed up the whole time; we didn’t believe in God, God believed in us.  And through Christ we are made enough.   All things are made new and all we have to do is receive.  He takes fear and shame and trades them in for his abundance.

Simple faith without striving.  It is already finished for you.

Peace.

An broken woman’s issue with Joy – the ex-pastor’s advent series continues

joy-adventMost of the time I feel more broken than I do whole, more pain than joy.  My problem isn’t with suffering, my problem is with happiness.  Happiness reminds me of all that is missing, and no matter how hard I try, it always seems to be just out of reach.  I’m talking about the brokenness that feels like the dark; fear, aching, hellish dark.

How does joy fit into fear, aching, hellish dark?  When all you can think is, “I’m not enough for this”.

I know how to avoid joy.  I’m an expert. Joy requires being known, and the last thing I want when I feel the depths of despair is to be seen, let alone known.  Because to be known requires revealing.  It takes admitting my deep rooted pain and no one wants to see that.  What do we do with pain?  We hide it, we medicate it, we attach to anything that can save us from it.  I’ll never forget the days my son in the pit of his depression was threatening to kill himself.  I drank myself to sleep every night for a year.  The temptation is to put the makeup on, pretend it’s not there, and for the love of God don’t admit weakness.  We form our gods out of our coping mechanisms.

Yet to be known means your shame and guilt come into the light so you can be healed.  I find myself saying over and over: “I can’t fix my pain.  I can’t put the broken pieces back together again”.  Maybe that’s where joy finds us? In this very place of desperation?

Belonging, or the lack of, is our worst fear.  To show up in our mess only to be rejected. Is this not the deep seated root of some of our greatest suffering?

Turns out joy is actually a person; you may know him as a baby in a manger.  The same baby who showed up only to be rejected.  To see “No room” written on the doorpost.  To have the only place of welcome a lowly stable.  Yet there he is, Immanuel – God is with us.  He reaches to us in our suffering and offers up himself and says “You are welcome, in your mess, your grief, your pain – you are welcome here”.

 

You can pursue happiness or you can pursue joy.

 

The same baby in the manger grew into the one who said to a large crowd, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they are the ones who receive the Kingdom of Heaven”.  The original word for “blessed” is actually “happy”, “to be envied”, “when God extends his benefits”. So those who are broken are the ones who are happy, to be envied in fact, and are the ones God has extended his benefits to”.  Seriously?  I fit the “broken” description but happy is far from how I feel. But maybe that is the mystery of God – to move underground, past our feelings to establish something unseen in the crevices of our soul that becomes the foundation for these God-benefits.

Happy isn’t a feeling and joy is offered to the broken.  How upside down. “Our brokenness opens the door to the Father’s heart” Paul Millar.  Why?  Because God knows a lot about brokenness.

“This is my body broken for you”, said the Christmas baby turned man.  His wounds heal our wounds. His brokenness exchanges for life.  Out of his suffering comes abundance.  What do you do with your brokenness?
Invite the abundance of God right into the middle of it.

“Brokenness happens in a soul so the power of God can happen in a soul. Shame is a bully, but grace is a shield. The miracle happens in the breaking.” Ann Voskamp

I have had it out with God on numerous occasions.  One time when I was particularly in a dark night of the soul I cried out to God in desperation pleading, “What do I get out of all this pain?!”

He replied, “Me”.

And surprisingly, that brought to me the first deep impression of what I would describe as joy.  It wasn’t a feeling, it wasn’t a decision… it was Him with me.

Immanuel.  God Is With Us.

Joy.

An ex-pastors thought on advent part 2: hope

hopeOne time I was a pastor, but now I’m a rebel; a rebel a part of a great rebellion.  “Rebellions are built on hope.” – Star Wars Rogue One.

When Jesus was born, a revolution started.  An uprising that looked much different than the people were expecting.  It was a dark day where Rome ruled a captive people desiring freedom.  They were expecting a hero from God to come save them from the clutches of the Roman’s rule.  One starry night, their Victor was born not in grandeur, but in secret, in the quiet.  Their king arrived not in a palace, but a barn, and no one knew except some shepherds who were awake.  Hope always arrives to the awake first, and reveals to those who lay down their own agenda of expectation.  The nation had an agenda – to see God show his power like he did when they were captive in Egypt, but this time God had a different plan.  Only those awake would see it.

Today, the rebellion continues, but not in the way we expect it as well.  We too, have an agenda of how we expect God to work in our world, yet we don’t see it manifest.  Where is hope?  Where is the rescue from pain and suffering?

Those “awake” today know that the Jesus of hope is not interested in merely being invited into our lives – He is inviting us into His; into his mystery, into the true rebellion.  He wants to show us what God’s underground rescue truly looks like.

For many, hope looks like the rescue of individuals rather than a master plan where a deeper story unveils.   We have heard that Jesus came for us to have a relationship with him.  This is true, but this puts us as the main character of hope’s story when it was never meant to be you and I.  What does God’s plan of hope look like when Jesus is the main character?  The true victor?

When he is placed at the centre of the story it is like a prisoner being pardoned, brokenness healed, an enemy being embraced.  “We have reduced his message to, ‘If you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?’ Instead of ‘If you LIVE tonight, how will you enter the kingdom of God?’  Jesus’ message has been reduced more to dying than living”. (Revangelism)  Turns out hope is a kingdom invasion, not just a rescue.

God had something much bigger in mind on the first Christmas.  A story that had been slowly unveiling over the cosmos of timeless time.  His plan’s focus was not to make people pray a special prayer to guarantee a ticket to heaven, but in actuality, bring heaven to earth.  Those awake can partake in it with no strings attached, no hoops to jump through – only see this Jesus as the King he is with a kingdom that invades earth with his glory.   Hope looks like the King coming to where we are, not us striving to reach for him.  Yes he has come, to bring hope that even though there is death, there is resurrection after.   Because he put death in it’s place and brought hope for new creation, there is now hope for the poor, the sick, the lonely, the depressed.  He binds up the brokenhearted, he sets those who have been tormented as captives free.  He releases prisoners.  He restores what has been lost and stolen and rebuilds. He gives us a new name: beloved, a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come. Immanuel, God has arrived to be with us.  We didn’t reach him, he came to us and found us in our corner.  He doesn’t just reach out his hand to heal us, he extends to us an invitation to become a part of the rebellion of hope – to bring heaven to earth.  Those awake will hear, those awake will see, those brave will respond.

So, beloved, are you awake?

 

 

 

Advent thoughts from an ex-pastor: love

advent-loveYes I was once a pastor.  I may be a rebel, but my faith remains my foundation. I’m not Catholic, but my youngest attends a catholic school where they learn advent.  I was moved by the themes of the candles.  Christmas is a beautiful time of year, but many have questions of what it is truly about; a baby in a barn? Really? And how does Santa fit into that?

What I find most interesting about faith, especially Christian faith, is that many feel they know what it’s about without knowing a lot about it.  For example, the concept of God’s love.  We’ve heard about it enough, we think we have the low down on it, but the older I get the more I discover how mysterious God’s love is. The problem with “knowing” about God is we become obsessed with getting him right and ourselves right. Then when we feel the need to get others right.  We will never “get” him, at least not in this life.  No matter how many boxes we put him in, he breaks out of them all.  We only know God as we believe him to be, yet Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, then you’ve seen God”.  So, what’s your perception of Jesus then?

Jesus is my favourite.  If he’s what God is like, then God is a fav of mine too.  And if this is true, then God is a whole lot different than you and I imagined.  For example, who did Jesus invite to be at his table?  It certainly wasn’t those we would expect; the elite, the well put together, the ones who looked good.  No, the those at Jesus’ table were liars, doubters, sluts, criminals, double-crossers, misfits, rebels, and loud mouthed know-it-alls.  Not one of them asked Jesus if they could follow him, he sought them. He looked past what others perceived and SAW them.  Interestingly, all religious hoops we feel we need to jump through, if we reflect on who Jesus kept as close company and the fact he chose THEM not the other way around, perhaps there’s much more to his love than what we thought?

Jesus didn’t come to make “bad” people good.  He came to make what was dead come alive.  He didn’t look down from a heavenly place as to say to us humans; “Dance monkey dance” for affection and affirmation. And any faith based on “what I can do”, or “what I manifest” will always struggle with worth.  Christmas offers us this gift; instead of earning, we receive for free.  Is it really free?  Is it that easy?

I would dare to say after all my years of study, the answer is a beautiful “yes”.  It’s when we don’t believe it’s that simple that this beauty gets distorted and the perfect love being offered becomes twisted. The brave are called to simply believe the gift of love that’s been given and receive it.  Jesus didn’t pursue glory for himself, but gave it up and then gave it away.  True love is being willing to glorify another even when you are the more worthy one.  He takes his crown and places it over me.  Then he calls me “beloved”.  In Him I become.  I belong, because the king says so.  I don’t belong to his rules, I belong to his heart.

He never wanted to tame us, he wants to liberate us. This Christmas season I pray you find not only visions of the baby, but the lion who roars with love for your freedom.  Could it be he has already been seeking you?

I believe he has.

The five barriers to courage you can overcome

JumpCourage is something everyone wants.  It’s a sacred desire we all have in common; whether we wish to be courageous to make our marriages last, raise healthy children, overcome anxiety or to step out of our comfort zone to take a risk.  But if courage is something we all desire, why don’t we see everyone experiencing it?

I remember walking into my first hip hop class at the age of twenty two. I was overweight and tired of living under the label I’d be carrying since grade 7 that my class gave me, “Connie Chunk”.  I was 22, and very insecure.  For 10 years I had been teased for my weight, pushed aside, and sometimes even physically bullied.  Walking into that hip hop class was scary, but I really wanted to try.  I struggled with knowing if I would end up feeling like a failure and not get the moves, but hip hop was always something that intrigued me to try. Week after week I showed up and battled through my insecurity of not only feeling awkward for my lack of groove, but being in a room full of beautiful, thin girls.  The first time the class formed a dance circle, I almost cried.  The last place I wanted to be was alone in the middle of a circle. What if they laughed at me?  Judged me?  I went in palms sweaty and full of fear.  I’m sure the move I did was probably the lamest move ever, but instead of ridicule I found a circle of supportive people who made me feel safe.  When I came out of the circle, someone said to me: “You are so courageous”!  It was there I found a new label because someone spoke something different over me. “Connie Chunk” was replaced by “Courageous” that day, and I’ve spent the last 20 years giving that gift of courage away to over 40,000 students in our public schools.

One thing I learned about courage when I entered that cypher is that courage does not guarantee success or failure.  Yet it turns out you and I influence courage in each other more than we knew.  Words and labels people have given us, or even the labels we’ve given ourselves can be our greatest limitation to courage.  I remember thinking, “Would Connie Chunk do this?” before venturing into something new.  It was only till someone spoke something different, and I believed it, that I saw breakthrough.

There is only one way to courage, and that is strait through our fear.  What do we do with fear?  We often attempt to avoid it at all costs, but as a wise 12 year old boy said to me when I asked him, “What would you do if you had no fear?”, he replied, “If I had no fear there would be no risk”.  Wow. Mindblown.  Looks like fear is an opportunity.

When it comes to stepping past fear into courage, there are some barriers to overcome.

  1. Self Protection: This is when we attempt to control our environment that is making us feel uncomfortable.  We may appear aloof or disinterested.  We may even put others down or find ourselves being overly critical of others and ourselves.  This is merely our self going into protection mode.  No one wants to look like a fool in front of others, yet we rob others of the gift of ourselves when we take ourselves too seriously.  I always talk about Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Aire when I speak because he is the perfect example of the freedom and happiness others experience when we allow ourselves to BE.  Who doesn’t love Carlton?!  And yet his dance moves arent’t half as impressive as Will Smith’s, but we buy into him because he allows his self to be seen without shame.
  2. Shame: The one thing that brings shame to most of us is the feeling of being “ordinary”.   We feel ordinary when our culture tells us to live extraordinarily, when our lives don’t seem to compare with others on social media, and when we feel our talents and gifts don’t seem to measure as good as others.  Shame is self worth that depends on what we accomplish.  Shame happens every time you hold back.  At the root of it, shame is actually the fear of being disconnected; disconnected from belonging, being understood, valued, and having the chance to be a part of something.
  3. Perfection: If we wait till we are perfect to step out in courage, then we never will.  “Perfect” doesn’t exist.  Perfectionism isn’t the same as striving to do things well.  Perfectionism guards, puts up walls, and defends what we feel is ours to keep to ourselves.  The problem with waiting to be perfect is that it’s a hustle you will never win.  In fact, perfectionism has been linked with depression and anxiety.  It’s a moving target we will never hit.
  4. Fear: Every time you step out to do something you desire, you may hear this statement whisper in your mind, “Who do you think you are?”  What gives you the right to step out?  It’s a good question. Why YOU?  You are worthy to be brave.  Yes you.  Not just the person sitting next to you, or the person who you think has all the confidence in the world.  YOU.  You have every right to step out of your fear and into courage.  When asking students to join a dance circle I always find it interesting when someone says ‘no’. “No” makes people think there’s something to be afraid of.  When one person says ‘no’, you can guarantee others who have caught the fear-vibe will be saying a BIG ‘NO’ as well.  On the other hand, when no one says ‘no’ to going in the cypher, no one gives fear a second thought.  Everyone is too busy enjoying the freedom of courage they are experiencing in themselves and others.
  5. Comparison: It squishes creativity, because when we compare, we don’t see what we have to offer is valid. Comparison steals from us.  It steals opportunities where we could have succeeded. It steals our peace of mind and lies to us to focus more on what we lack.  It steals our friendships, causing us to become jealous and to put on more armour to protect ourselves.  “Worrying happens when we’ve experienced comparison and dissatisfaction with ourselves so much that we don’t join together to heal.  Instead we get jealous of one another and isolate ourselves”. – Brene Brown.

What does a courageous person look like?

A courageous person….

Is afraid…. but steps out anyways

Lets go of their armour and invisibility cloak, allowing others to SEE them

Fails…. often but knows that growth comes from taking risks and learning from failure.

Doesn’t take failure personally

Lives honestly about their shortcomings without hating on themselves

Isn’t afraid of hard work and perseveres when things are hard

Learns from others and accepts feedback

Creates courage in others

Lets go of comparison

Knows they are enough, even when they’re not “the best”

Works for excellence but isn’t bound by the prison of perfectionism

Embraces how uncomfortable it is to put themselves out there

Surrenders the outcome

You were born to be courageous.  You have what it takes.  Where do you find courage? You find it when you step past fear.  There are no short cuts.  Courage happens in your every day, small choices.  It’s who you are when no one’s looking and the bravery to show who you truly are when everyone IS looking.  It’s letting go of needing to be in control and surrendering to whatever outcome.  It’s realizing there is enough room for every one to succeed.It’s when you show up and let yourself be seen.  It’s an ongoing process that will never end.  We need to be willing to continuously choose courage throughout our lives.  It’s reassuring to know that everyone relates; we ALL struggle with being courageous, but at the same time, we can all experience the freedom courage can bring us when we choose to live it.

When we become more courageous we see less bullying, violence, racism, depression, identify crisis, self shame and instead see more creative social change, confidence, possibility, and freedom. “Acting on courage is the first step to any kind of self development.  Once we learn to be courageous ourselves, we can spark courage within our societies”, –  Ryan DeGuzman.

The world around you needs your courageous acts.  Are you ready to live this kind of reality?  You can. I dare you.

*This blog post included content from my new “Courage Program” Mpact Movement is bringing to create cultures of courage in schools.  If you are interested in the program coming to your school, please contact me at mpactmovement@gmail.com or check out our website for more info.

Strait up HOW screens are effecting our kids (without the mommy guilt)

addicted-to-video-gamesMy family and I took two months off screens this summer.  How did that go?  Let me fill you in, but first let me answer for myself first and then tell you what my kids really thought about the experience.

After two months of being off social media I am back and refreshed from the time away. I didn’t realize what a normal part of life it has become. It was strange to not share special moments with friends. Sometimes it felt disconnected and lonely – that’s when I remembered this thing called the phone. The greatest discovery for me was how much my brain needed the downtime. It freed up my creative brain space to get some projects done, as well as I was able to be more present with those surrounding me in the moment. I can say my appreciation for spending time sharing with friends over coffee became much more appreciated. 

Before I tell you what my kids thought of the process, I would like to share with you why I did this.

I noticed my children were becoming obsessed with screens, particularly gaming.  At the same time I noticed an increase in anxiety, irritability, meltdowns, distractibility, trouble following simple directions, and little interest outside of playing video games.

When “no” became the regular answer when asked to do fun things with the family, I had a problem with that.  This is when I knew that something needed to change, but what?  HOW were screens effecting my children so much?

Here’s how screens are effecting children in general from a neurological point of view.

Immediate Gratification 

Video games keep the gamer engaged by giving them a sense of control and choices which lead to instant rewards, being gratified immediately. Instant rewards send dopamine levels, the feel good chemical in the brain, through the roof.  The problem with feeding reward systems and dopamine in the mind is that it takes more and more to appease it.  What’s interesting is that research is finding in children the same reward circuits that are being activated with video games are the same reward circuits that feed harmful addictions.

The other problem with raising dopamine levels through the fast-paced rewards that are given through video games is that it puts the body into a high state of arousal, followed by a crash.  This is where we see our children become disregulated, moody, anxious, and sometimes aggressive.  Dopamine is what makes the player want to play more.  Game designers are geniuses at creating intensity in their games to satisfy the inner reward system.  Coming down from high dopamine levels causes a child to become disorganized or anxious.

The other problem is that serotonin, important for being social, having a stable mood and coping with stress, becomes more disregulated with video game play, making games more like self medication. This hyperarousal and inability to process is where the prefrontal cortex is compromised.  The prefrontal cortex gives the ability to plan, have empathy, and problem solve.  When the prefrontal cortex is compromised it hinders attention span and the ability to handle stress.

 

Stress

The hyperarousal that video games create is caused by the constant state of being in “fight or flight brain”, making it hard to relax or think things through.  When a child lives in their fight or flight brain continually, it becomes hard to regulate calmness.  The nervous system is in a state of stress, and if that is prolonged, it can actually cause damage to the nervous system.  If you’ve ever experienced a child who normally is fairly even keel turn savage after being asked to stop playing a game, it’s because their nervous system is on overload.

 

Loss of Curiosity

To be human is to be curious, inspiring creativity.  Unfortunately, slow cooked creativity that comes from a curiosity about life can’t compete with the high levels of dopamine release a video game can provide. Normal things become boring.  Nature is too slow.  Relationships become a let-down compared to the instant gratification rewards a game offers.  There’s no comparison.

 

“Wait, I thought you said there would be no mommy guilt?”.  It’s hard to read the reality of what happens with too much game stimulation isn’t it?  However, remember these are just facts to keep in mind.  I started observing these three dangers in my boys and knew we needed a break.  Interestingly enough, when we were about one month and a half through, I noticed how much my boys actually need games for downtime.

“Wait, didn’t you just say in a round-about way that video games are bad?”

I gave the facts, yes, but also realized after couple of times when I allowed the boys to play for a limited time near the end of the summer that it actually refreshed them.  I realized at that moment that it was going to take time and great intention on my part to navigate the waters of balancing screens in our home.  Coming back into the fall and permission again for screens, my goal is to train my boys to learn how to handle them.  My youngest, for example, cannot handle the same amount of time on a screen as my older son without becoming moody and disregulated.  I’m teaching him to notice the signs and get off the screen before it gets out of control.

As for what my boys really thought about this process, they will tell you it was horrible, but deep inside it has built the awareness inside of them that screens can easily get out of control.  We all noticed the difference in our mood over the summer (but they won’t tell you that…)

There is no easy answer when it comes to screens. I wrote another blog on navigating screens which you can read about here.  I think it’s important to stay flexible, keep communication lines open and be transparent through the process.  It’s important to look for the signs mentioned above and navigate accordingly.

No mommy guilt needed.  There’s no pat answer.  Every child is different.  You CAN teach your children to be masters of the screen, rather than the other way around.

 

 

 

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