Recovery Room: The People Pleaser (by Shawn Smucker)

Throughout 2015, I'll be hosting various writers as they step into the Recovery Room. It's not all about alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or workaholism. It's more about the thing--whatever it is--that supplants inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn't we all use a little recovery from something?

Today, welcome Shawn Smucker, author of my son's favorite book, The Day the Angels Fell. I hope you'll enjoy his words. (And then, grab a copy of his book for your children, grandchildren, or friends' children! You'll be glad you did. And today, the Kindle edition is only $3.99!)

Welcome to the Recovery Room.

*****

He probably thought he was dying – my 5-year-old son, that is, as he made his way from the bloody bathroom sink, through the middle-of-the-night hallway, and into my dark bedroom. I don’t know how long he stood there in the shadows and the loud humming of the fan, trying to decide what to do. But somehow I remember that feeling, as a child, watching with fascination a sleeping parent, wondering what is the appropriate way to awaken them.

I woke up that night to Sam’s words whispered through held-back tears.

“Dad, I have to show you something.”

But even after I heard him, I was still groggy. 4am groggy.

“Sammy, what are you doing? You can show me in the morning.”

“Dad, come here! I have to show you something.”

Normally “I have to show you something” is not nearly reason enough for me to get out from under a warm comforter, especially when it’s 7 degrees outside. I hesitated.

“Dad!”

Something in his voice convinced me, and I found myself stumbling over pillows and blankets, rubbing my eyes, wondering if I would ever get a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep again. (Of course, with five children, I know the answer is no.)

When we got to the bathroom, any remaining sleepiness fled. The handtowels held dark red spots. The floor was covered in drips of blood. Sam must have sneezed or spit at some point, because flecks of blood covered the white sink, red stars in a white sky. He had blood on his shirt, his face, even his socks.

*****

I thought I was dying recently. Not literally, but figuratively, as I came face to face with my addiction to approval, my incessant need to please everyone. To say the right thing. To be who I “should” be.

The first step in the death of that addiction was self-publishing a children’s book, The Day the Angels Fell. It may not sound like much to you, but just the thought of doing that had me lying awake at night, stomach churning, mind racing.

What if people don’t like it?

What if people think I’m really stupid?

What if the writing is terrible?

I thought about it from a million different angles, tried to talk myself out of it, or at least wait. There were many good reasons, none of which I can remember anymore. Then, one October day, I stared at that addiction to approval, closed my eyes, and hit the button to start the Kickstarter campaign that I hoped would fund my novel.

Can I be honest here? Part of me hoped the campaign wouldn’t be funded. Part of me thought that if I put this idea out there and it didn’t gain traction, then I could somehow escape putting myself out there. I could bypass sharing my creativity. I could retreat back into my cave, where I never took a risk and everyone approved of me.

The Kickstarter campaign was funded in 48 hours.

Everyone congratulated me. There were pats on the back, encouraging emails. But I was terrified. Now I had to publish it. I had to share it. I had to open myself up to the very real possibility that people wouldn’t like it, that they would find it mediocre, that I would be rejected.

Then the book came out, and I realized that this thing I had created had nothing to do with what anyone else thought of it or thought of me. My need for approval did not have to taint the story I had written. I realized these things as I held the book in my hands, or when my two oldest children raced through it, or when the people I had dedicated the book to spoke to me with tears in their eyes.

I stared a kind of death in the face, and I was okay. It was a step in the right direction for me, a step away from addiction. A step towards sobriety.

*****

My son was terrified when he sneezed out that constellation of blood, but you know what? It was just his first nosebleed, the result of a very dry house on a very cold night. Nothing more. We spent the next 15 minutes working together, cleaning up the mess. I gathered the towels and the blood-stained bedsheets. I scrubbed the carpet.

Engaging an addiction is similarly terrifying. Cofronting an addiction is scary, like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and our first bouts leave us shaken and panicky. But I can now say that I have been to the other side of my fear, and it is not death. Or maybe it’s the other side of death, the opposite end of the passageway. Maybe facing our addiction is like facing death, dying, and then rising again.

Life waits for us there, on the other side of that death, on the other side of that addiction. Freedom waits for us there, cloaked in sobriety.

*****

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Recovery Room: Approval Addiction (A Guest Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee)

Welcome to the Recovery Room. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: we're all recovering from something. Maybe it's booze, pills, sex, eating, puking, exercise, theology, or trumped up religiosity. Maybe it's material, power, or the need to be seen as competent. We push pain back with our vices of choice, don't we? Be honest.

Allow me to introduce you to Jennifer Dukes Lee, my friend who enters the Recovery Room and confesses that she is an approval addict. JDL is a published author who's pushing into her own recovery with a rare authenticity. Enjoy her story, then head over to her site for more.

*****

I feel an old anxiety rising up in me, as I tap at these computer keys.

Maybe this is how a recovering alcoholic would feel if she walked into a dimly lit tavern, where ice cubes clink against glass and the bartender counts out the glug-glug-glugs from a tipped bottle.

Someone else will have to tell me if I’m right—if this is how a recovering alcoholic would feel in a bar. (And maybe it all depends on the day.)

I can’t say for sure, because booze isn’t my vice.

Your approval is.

Let me tell what I’m feeling as I step inside, leaning my back against a wood-paneled wall illuminated by a collage of neon signs. I can already taste it, how badly I want it: Your approval and acceptance. I know how it feels on the way down—like a familiar, comfortable burn to appease my inner addict, my inner pain.

I have a two-faced heart: I both want what I want, and yet I don’t want it at all.

All the world’s a tavern, it seems, and maybe we’re all thirsty for something that we know won’t do us any good.

I don’t belly up to this bar for a whiskey. I don’t pay much attention to whether they’re serving IPAs or Pabst. I’m paying attention to the faces. Your faces. Who’s in this room today? And does what I have to say make me worth listening to? I see you, and I wonder if you will swivel in your seats to see me. They call it “being known” these days.

I’m not proud to admit how often I have wanted to “be known.” I’ve wanted to make a good impression, especially around smart folks like you.

I’ve been coming clean from that, and God knows it hasn’t been easy. Dying daily never is. Maybe it’s the way someone comes clean from alcohol dependency, one day at a time. It’s both painful and exhilarating—like you’re breathing air into your lungs for the first time in your life.

It’s how a daily death makes you more alive.

///

My friend, Seth, and I have been talking about that—about how recovery is universal.

[tweetherder text="'Recovery isn't just for the drinkers and users.' @dukeslee"]Recovery isn’t just for the drinkers and the users.[/tweetherder]

It’s for me.

Let me tell you what I’ve been recovering from:

Let’s say my heart was a beer stein or a wine glass. I’ve spent a lot of my life holding the heart-cup out to people like you, hoping you’d fill it by telling me that I’m kind, that I’m smart, that I’ve got something important to say. That I matter.

I want you to say good things about me when the saloon doors swing closed behind me after I leave. (But I assume the worst.)

I have figured your good words would save me from my inner addict—the one who has feared rejection, of being “found out,” and of assuming that I don’t really belong in whatever room I’ve been invited into. I’ve been a poster child of “imposter syndrome.”

After years of imposter living, a person can barely tell where the mask stops and the skin starts. And it can take a good long while to find the “real you” again.

I’m in the middle of finding me.

I’m in the middle of my do-over.

///

The other day, Seth wished us all a Happy Easter from The Recovery Room. I smiled a knowing smile.

Because every morning is Easter morning where I live. Easter is how I live in the tavern of this world, and still function without asking for another glass of whatever I think will numb the ache.

I don’t need to numb the ache. I need to understand the ache. I need to feel the ache, and then ask God to help me deal with it. Every day, I ask myself hard questions, like the ones the Apostle Paul asked: “Am I now trying to win the approval of man, or of God? Or am I still trying to please man?”

I used to think that I’d wake up some day and then it would be gone. Poof! I wouldn’t want your approval anymore.

But my recovery? It’s ongoing. I have learned that I am in the constant process of coming clean. I am caught between who I once was, and who I will be.

I’m learning not to resent the process, because my recovery makes me needy for Jesus, needy for Easter.

In my childhood church, we sang this song throughout the Lenten season: “Every morning is Easter morning from now. Every day’s Resurrection Day the past is over and gone.”

I want to live every morning like it’s Easter morning, like a fresh coming-alive. I also want to live like it’s Good Friday, because I have to die to live.

The world has never known another god like this—a God who loves sinners, who says, “I’m giving you a do-over.”

The same God will say the very same thing tomorrow. Isn’t that something?

In my recovery, I need a God like that.

And thanks be to Jesus, I have one.

*****

JDL HeadshotJennifer Dukes Lee is the author of Love Idol, a book that chronicles her own story of recovery. The book helps people dismantle what’s separating them from true connection with God and experience the freedom of a life lived in authentic love.

Photo by Seth Anderson, Creative Commons via Flickr.

*****

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