The Blog: On Second Thought

addictsad

(Photo source: Pexels.com)

“He’s got a drinking problem.”

“I’ve got a problem with drugs.”

People often use those phrases to describe drug addiction or alcoholism. It’s an attempt to define addiction by a single issue, and you can’t fault anyone for that. But as a recovered addict, let me tell you something: Defining addiction this way doesn’t really make sense to those in active addiction.

Let me explain why.

When I was shooting dope, I didn’t have a drug “problem.” Instead, I had a drug “solution.” Drugs were how I coped. And when you took those drugs away from me, that’s when I had problems. Serious problems.


I was using drugs to blot out my reality.


Think of it this way: I was using drugs to blot out my reality. I went to desperate measures to use a poisonous substance to numb pain, perceived or real. Whatever pain I had, whatever maladaptive feelings, whatever trauma and issues I was hiding, covering up, or treating for years — they were all exposed when you took the drugs away.

And yet those around drug addicts will often [understandably] say, “Just give up the dope and you’ll be fine,” or, “He’s a great guy, but he can’t give up the booze. If he’d give it up, he’d be the best. He’s got so much potential.”

But in practice, when I actually left the substance alone — whether I had sworn it off or been removed from it — I do not react the way that those around me keep telling me I would. I did not feel “fine.” I did not feel like I could reach my “potential.” I did not feel like “the nice guy I am when I’m not high.” In fact, I felt the exact opposite.

I felt irritable. Restless. Discontent. Angry. Angry that I had to give up my solution, that I couldn’t get my solution, or that those around me were keeping me from my solution. When you took that solution away, all my underlying problems started to sink in: The debts I built up, the harm I did, the people I burned. Everything was certainly not “fine.”


When you took that solution away, all my underlying problems started to sink in…


On a physical level, withdrawal exacerbates this phenomenon. Withdrawal is most easily explained as the mind and body’s yo-yo like effect when coming off of a substance. For example, heroin initially makes you feel warm, tingly, relaxed, and euphoric. Coming off of heroin provides the exact opposite feeling: You’re cold with flu like symptoms, anxiety-ridden, and panicked with a feeling of dread and misery.

Recovery isn’t all cupcakes and unicorns, then. It’s a very difficult uphill battle for so many. This becomes one of the single biggest stumbling blocks. We’ve been told so often, that as soon as the substance is gone, glorious recovery commences.

And here’s where I want to offer a different way forward: Recovery isn’t just about stopping something, it’s about finding a new solution.

Look at the definition of recovery.

  1. a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.
  2. the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.

I want to focus on the secondary definition, because I think it’s actually better. See, in order to regain possession of this life that I’ve lost (or more accurately, “given away”), I must track it down. In the early hours, days and weeks, I didn’t even have my bearings. But I knew I was hurt and lost and trying to find my way.

In other words, I was looking for a new solution.

Without some real, concrete foundation to replace the old solution (drugs), I was either going to flounder around in a state of unrest, confusion, and hurt, or I was going to return to the solution that anesthetized the pain.

I found that new solution by revisiting my fundamental needs: physical, mental, and spiritual.

Physical: Exercise and nutrition have absolutely been a saving grace in my own recovery.

Mental: This looks different for everyone, but can include in-patient treatment, cognitive therapy, or seeing a counselor.

And last, but certainly not least, would be the spiritual: I found God.

I don’t like to over-spiritualize everything, but I found in my case and many others that I’ve seen, at least some type of divine intervention seems necessary.

(By the way, I’ve seen the spiritual aspect done poorly, too. There are too many people in the faith community that ignore physical and mental needs in addicts. When someone has cancer, I don’t just pray for them. I allow the medical team to do great things, I allow the care team to do what they’re good at, and then I pray for that team fervently.)


We need to offer them something more, something better; someone more, someone better.


So how should we all approach addicts? We can’t just tell them to STOP their vice. We need to offer them something more, something better; someone more, someone better. We need to come alongside them and introduce them to new and better solutions they can START.

Whether or not they choose to do so, well, that’s where the divine intervention comes in.


To hear Jordan’s full story, watch his White Chair Film:

 

(Photo source: Pexels.com)

(Photo source: Pexels.com)

I’ve wrestled with two addictions in my life: caffeine and pornography.

Actually, I wasn’t technically addicted to caffeine, I was physically dependant.

I say this because one of the definitions of addiction is undertaking repetitive actions despite negative consequences. I had no idea how much damage caffeine was doing to me until I quit soda cold turkey after my dentist explained what it was doing to my teeth.

I know caffeine addiction is a joke in our society, but the stuff is a drug. It took me three weeks to recover. Three physically painful weeks. I swore off the stuff and I’ve never gone back.

All that to say I was not technically addicted, because when I found out about the negative consequences, I cut the stuff out of my life.

Porn, on the other hand, was a different matter. It’s a habit I picked up in middle school like many other boys. By the time I realized that stuff was incredibly unhealthy, it was a “normal” part of my life. Unlike caffeine, I wasn’t able to kick that habit even though it definitely had negative effects.

It was after I decided to become a Christian in my senior year of High School when I realized I should get rid of pornography in my life. Not because Jesus gets angry if I look at porn. That’s a ridiculous image of Jesus. Like, some kind of angry, jerk boss — when Jesus is basically the opposite of that. He cares deeply for me and wants what’s best for me — that’s why he’s given me rules.

In that sense, I knew I needed to quit because not only was I warping the sexual expectations in life,  I was helping to perpetuate an entire industry that treats people like commodities  — which is loathed by any philosophical or moral system worth its salt.

But even though I wanted to stop, I found that I just couldn’t make myself do it. The internet made bad choices so effortless.

Here was the cycle I found myself in:

1 – Have a desire to look at porn

2 – Tell myself that I shouldn’t look at porn

3 – Cave in and look at porn

4 – Feel like garbage that I looked at porn

5 – Want to find some comfort from feeling like garbage, you know, like maybe porn?

(back to step 1)

It was a perpetual cycle. The more I fought my addiction, the worse I felt after giving in to it. So I basically stopped fighting and just accepted that the addiction was part of who I am.


The more I fought my addiction, the worse I felt after failing again.


Brenè Brown wrote a book called “Daring Greatly” where she helped me understand this phenomenon.

Brown explains that there is a difference between guilt and shame.

Guilt says, “I didn’t live up to my expectations and I need to do better.” It’s actually not an inherently bad thing. I forgot my best friends’ birthday, and I’m never going to let that happen again.

Shame, on the other hand, says “I didn’t live up to my expectations, and that makes be a bad person.” See the difference? One is what I do, the other is who I am.

When I couldn’t get rid of my addiction, I started to believe it was who I was. I was a terrible person, and if I was a terrible person, I couldn’t expect to behave any differently. Every time I gave in to my addiction, it reinforced this idea and wrapped me tighter and tighter into my destructive behavior.

I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. It was my destiny. I tried everything: crying, praying, making commitments, asking for help from friends… nothing worked. Because I was the failure — at least, in my own mind.

I didn’t have the benefit of Brown’s writing back when I finally escaped from my addiction, but I kind of figured out this dynamic on my own.

One day, I decided that if I looked at porn, I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it. I would pick up and move on. I would trust this Christian message I had been told that God knows everything about me and loves me anyway.


The thing driving me to look at porn was the fear of looking at porn.


You would not believe how fast porn faded from my life after years of addiction when I changed my outlook. Instead of letting the old tapes play in my head of, “I’m a piece of crap who can’t stop looking at smut,” I went with, “I screwed up today, but God still loves me, and I’m gonna try to let that change me tomorrow, but if I don’t, God will still love me tomorrow too.” And you know what? When I got rid of the part of the cycle where I beat myself up, the cycle broke down.  

The thing driving me to look at porn was the fear of looking at porn. Crazy, right?

Now, maybe you have no issue with porn. We all have our own struggles. Maybe it’s drugs or alcohol or cutting or sex or anger or one of a million other things for you. But you know what I believe? I believe that God made you, I believe that God knows everything about you, and I believe in the midst of that, God chooses to love you; and nothing can change that fact.


So if you’re wrestling with an addiction, please do me a favor, and get rid of the part where that addiction defines who you are in your own mind.


So if you’re wrestling with an addiction, please do me a favor, and get rid of the part where that addiction defines who you are in your own mind. Instead of “a guy with a porn addiction,” I let myself believe that I was “a guy who God loves.” For me, it was the key to everything.

Listen, I also have good people around me who help keep me in healthy patterns, and I continuously take steps to separate myself from opportunities to make dumb choices. I waited years before getting a smartphone after they came out for this very reason.

But none of that would have mattered without the very center of the equation changing.

You’re not just an addict. You’re a human being with an addiction. Your value doesn’t come from what you do, it starts with who you are. And who you are loved by someone who was willing to do whatever it takes to save you from yourself.

sleep

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Sleep had always eluded me.

I used to take Benadryl in high school (more than the average dose), and growing up I was used to being the last one awake at sleepovers. That usually resulted in me calling my mom to pick me up from slumber parties at 2 am. At a young age, I developed a fear of the night, of not sleeping, of being tired the next day, of being alone with my thoughts.

Insomnia ran in my family and I hit a rough patch at age 18. I was a camp counselor at the time, and couldn’t manage to turn my little brain off at night. High performance and ‘go, go, go’ was expected of me, and I simply couldn’t function on 2 hours of sleep every night. Fix it fast, as fast as you can, I told myself, a notion confirmed by doctors. And what better immediate solution than a pill?

For the next seven years straight, I would take a powerful prescription medication to sleep: Ambien.

I became someone with an addiction. Ambien (and eventually wine), would soon become my higher power, the only way I knew how to do life.


I grew such a tolerance and such a reliance, that my small frame would take three to four times the maximum amount prescribed just so that I could sleep peacefully.


It did not start out as an addiction or dark cloud, far from it. What started as a desire to simply sleep, experience one of life’s most natural functions, turned into a raging addiction. One pill turned into two, two into three, three into God knows how much. Often times I’d wake up and half the bottle of Ambien would be gone, and I’d have no recollection of how it happened: The last thing I remembered was taking one. I grew such a tolerance and such a reliance, that my small frame would take three to four times the maximum amount prescribed just so that I could sleep peacefully.

Needless to say, I felt as if I lived much of those seven years as a zombie, with no true rest. As Ambien began to stop working, as all of our bandaids eventually do, I quickly learned that alcohol could speed up the sleep process. So, I started combining the two: way too much Ambien and a couple of glasses of wine, eventually to become a bottle of wine a night. I would take my Ambien religiously and drink out of my sophisticated, tall- stemmed glass of Sauvignon Blanc devotedly. Every. Single. Night.

You would do it too if you knew the misery in not sleeping night after night, I told myself. Sleep had to occur to function. Therefore, I needed to do what I needed to do in order to make that happen. It was all in the name of sleep, I told myself and concerned loved ones. But over time, it became to be about so much more than physical rest.


I drank and took Ambien to soothe the spiritual unrest I felt, to escape hard things, to escape from myself, to numb the emotions that I had. 


I drank and took Ambien to soothe the spiritual unrest I felt, to escape hard things, to escape from myself, to numb the emotions that I had. Why do I have to fu***** feel everything? I hated that I felt every emotion so acutely.

If you knew me in the past, you might be quite surprised to read this. For much of my life, I didn’t enjoy getting drunk. That’s not to say I didn’t get drunk, but I didn’t love it when it happened. I was so fixated on maintaining my composure, being in control, and being productive — all of which don’t mix with alcohol. So in college, I went grocery shopping during football tailgates my freshman year because homegirl didn’t want to drink warm Natty Light with a bunch of sweaty boys. Instead, I drove people around, went on runs, painted in my room.

My sophomore year, I learned that “day-drinking” was a thing. Again, it didn’t quite suit my personality — I was a do-er, and how could I do anything if I’m drinking during the day? Nevertheless, I partook. And I actually grew to enjoy it.

But still, I wasn’t partying until I puked. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve thrown up from drinking, (as if that were an accomplishment, ha!). I wasn’t really much of a partier at all. Don’t get me wrong, I was not a saint either and no doubt I drank like my friends around me, but there was always someone more drunk than me in the room. I was usually the first to call it a night – being in my bed just sounded better than being in a bar packed like sardines drinking shots of Fireball. When I traveled to Spain two summers in a row, I often called it a night before the party ever got started.


All of these things would later become qualifications for “why I didn’t have a problem”


The boys I’d crush on and date for a hot minute in college would give me a hard time when we went out, because I always insisted on drinking water in between each drink, and the last hour of the night, water only.

All of these things would later become qualifications for “why I didn’t have a problem”, and I would cling to them for dear life — anything to prove I was not an addict.

***

I had a group of women in college that I surrounded myself with and was never afraid to get honest, raw, and real with them. I was open about my struggle with sleep in our weekly Bible studies, but the truth is, as honest and open as I thought I was being — I didn’t truly know the depth of the struggle. I never intended to abuse alcohol. I never intended to be on a medication for as long as I was. I had good intentions. But even the best of intentions and the strongest of moral convictions don’t stand a chance in the face of addiction.

Dependence on sleeping medication? Absolutely. But addiction? Never. Even. Crossed. My. Mind. I knew it ran in my family to some degree, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I had this idea of an addict in my head: He had red veins broken out on his face, drinking a 40 out of a brown paper bag under a bridge with a stacked record of DWIs. Not me. I felt sorry for those who struggled with it, deeply sorry, but I didn’t bother to learn about it, because it could never touch me, right? The word addict or alcoholic did not ring synonymous with Caroline Pullen.

But looking back I can see that those beginning years on Ambien every night mixed in with some casual drinking were laying the foundation for the dark days of true addiction that laid ahead.

***

This blog post is the second installment of a series. Check back later in the week for the third installment of Caroline’s story. 


For another story on addiction, check out Jordan Roger’s short film:

Jordan Rogers spent eight years as an addict (five of those years tangled up with heroin). In his new I Am Second film, he talks about that dark experience and how he ultimately found sobriety. But something that you won’t see in the film is also something he has become extremely passionate about: his world.

I’ll let him explain:

It’s been said that addiction is a disease of isolation. What begins as a gregarious and social activity, usually progresses to a sad and solitary ritual.

By the end of my addiction, I was shut up in the bathroom of a pink motel room and eventually I was locked up in a concrete box. These are lonely, dark, and ugly places. My world had become very, very small.

But in recovery, the world can become a very big place. I gained the freedom to walk anywhere a free man could go. I gained an appreciation for life, both my own and others. After existing in the nocturnal and institutionalized lifestyle of addiction for so many years, I gained a special appreciation for life-giving creation like plants, flowers, and sunlight. Beauty began to show itself in all kinds of places. I began to seek experience, education, and adventure to new and interesting places. Through school, work, and play, I’ve been afforded some incredible opportunities to see so much around the world. I’ve driven across the United States, studied Shakespeare in England, played golf in Scotland, and visited amazing cities like Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Prague…and many more.

The world has become a very big place indeed.

To show just how big his world has become, Jordan sent some amazing pictures from his world travels. To celebrate the message of hope he found, we wanted to share them with you. Take a look:

(Source: Jordan Rogers. Used with permission.)

(Source: Jordan Rogers. Used with permission.)

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You can watch Jordan’s film on addiction below:

Caroline Grace Pullen (Photo source: Elis Avellan // http://alicerabbit.com/ )

Caroline Grace Pullen (Photo source: Elis Avellan // http://alicerabbit.com/ )

 

it is being honest about my pain that makes me invincible. 
 
i fell apart many times.
so.
what does that say about me
besides
I live through
wars.
 
– nayyirah waheed
 
★★★

I’ve been reluctant to write down or share my story with others, mostly because I’m right in the middle of my story. I thought I’d wait until I got myself together a little more, until I was maybe three years sober with a little more wisdom under my belt. You’re only allowed to share your story when you can tie a neat, lovely bow around it – right? But I’m learning otherwise. We must honor all parts of our story: the messy past, the beginning — multiple beginnings in my case — the middle, the good chapters,  the dark chapters, the horrible rough drafts, and the gems alike.

Isn’t that our nature, though? We are all so damn concerned with presenting ourself to the world with our best foot forward. We answer the “How are you’s?” with a chipper “Fine!” and “Doing great!” when really, we aren’t. But that’s the only socially acceptable way to answer that question, we think. We hold fast to the belief that it’s not OK to be not OK. We are willing to share things that we’ve accomplished and been through, but afraid to share when and what we’re going through.


We are willing to share things that we’ve accomplished and been through, but afraid to share when and what we’re going through.


I’m not where I used to be and I’m not where I want to be. And I’m at peace with that today. In fact, I think that’s exactly where I should be today. If I got to exactly where I wanted to be, if I had arrived, then what growth would be left? What need would there to be to rely upon God?

I’ve begun to feel a certain urgency in sharing my story. Fear and insecurity tell me “No way girl, keep your cats in the bag. You’re rocking the facade, don’t stop now.” But I think we all ought to feel a sense of urgency in speaking our truth, in sharing honestly, because, as Laura McKowen tells it: We desperately need to hear each other’s most honest stories. When we find the courage to become vulnerable, we allow someone else to take a deep breath, and own their story, all parts of it.

We allow someone to feel less alone, to hear their story in ours, to say “Me, too” with relief.

My whole life, I’ve appeared to have all of my cute little ducks in a row. I don’t recall ever trying to arrange the ducks just so, but nevertheless, I appeared to have it all together. I measured my successful appearance by what the scale said, so much so that I developed an eating disorder at age fourteen. I was voted captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, nominated to homecoming court, and had the love and devotion of a sought after guy in high school. My childhood experiences were all wonderful and I hailed my roots from a family that was well-educated, cultured, and had money. I attended church, was a Young Life leader, and I knew the Bible well. I received a solid education, traveled the world, learned another language, made great money at jobs I worked hard at and was able to provide for myself. I also had a community of friends and loved ones who supported me through everything.


I’m actually quite broken, a lovely mess, a complicated little puzzle that’s been well acquainted with darkness and lightness alike.


When looking at these external things, everything was OK. All of our lists of external things may look different, but the notion is the same: These things make us alright. But when I looked inside, I knew otherwise. I never realized until I came into recovery that for so long, I relied upon these things to be my identity and my worth. To me, living on these “things” as my identity sure as hell beat the real truth, which was and is that I’m actually quite broken, a lovely mess, a complicated little puzzle that’s been well acquainted with darkness and lightness alike.

The realization took its sweet time to come around to me, but it did, and it was a devastating blow to learn that these external things, no matter how long my list of accomplishments or the amount of worldly riches I had acquired; nothing, and I mean NOTHING, exempt me from the disease of addiction.

My story is one characterized by failed attempts at outsmarting God, half-hearted promises I’d break to myself, defeat, resilience, getting back up, victories, small and great. And a story of hope and loads upon loads of relentless grace.

It’s important for me to tell you before I share my story that I am proudly in recovery, I am sober now, but I’m still being made whole. My story is still being written. Parts of it may seem dark, because it was dark. But please don’t get too stuck on this and miss out on how the bright, brilliant light defies and defines the darkness.

This is me honoring my story, all of the pieces.

***

This blog post is the first installment of a series. Check back next week for the second installment of Caroline’s story. 


For another story on addiction, check out Jordan Roger’s short film:

(Source: Agberto Guimaraes via Unsplash.com)

(Source: Agberto Guimaraes via Unsplash.com)

The Olympics make me come alive.

I’m serious, y’all. There is something about watching the Olympic games that really pumps me up. And I’m not alone. There is a special draw to the Olympics all around the world, pulling in more than your average sports fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching baseball and I can really get excited at a college football game. But the Olympics are different. And I think I know what it is.

Story.

NBC does an incredible job at documenting the backstories of some of the most followed Olympians. So, instead of just watching a freak athlete on television that is far more talented in swimming than we will ever be, we’re watching a freak athlete on television that was contemplating suicide just a few years ago. We’re cheering on a sprinter that trained barefooted as a child because they couldn’t afford shoes. We’re rooting for athletes from other countries because they have escaped death and are now refugees.


We sit back amazed not only by their ridiculous athletic abilities, but also at their drive and motivation to overcome some of life’s most daunting trials. 


It’s a beautiful thing.

We sit back amazed not only by their ridiculous athletic abilities, but also at their drive and motivation to overcome some of life’s most daunting trials. We see behind the curtain, and suddenly the athletic celebrity whose name is known in every home across America (and the world) is now… Human. Not immune to hardship.

While their backstory gives us a greater reason to cheer them on, it unites us. People of different interests, different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities are all watching the same thing every day for two weeks,  following the same stories and relating to athletes from all over.

For example, the Olympic swimmer Lilly King is from Evansville, Indiana. Evansville, like many communities in our country, has faced years of division. Though, the local Evansville Courier & Press recently published an article about Lilly with a headline that says, “Lilly King: the most unifying force in Evansville history.” When I heard about this, Lilly King became my new favorite swimmer. Her backstory scored some serious points in my book.

I’m aware that this is not a novel observation about the Olympics. However, it got me thinking: How much more would we be rooting for the people in our lives if we knew their entire backstory?


How much more would we be rooting for the people in our lives if we knew their entire backstory?


At I Am Second, we believe in the power of sharing stories. And we don’t share people’s stories for the sake of simple entertainment, but for the sake of reminding others that they are not alone. Through sharing stories, through pulling back the curtain and stepping outside of the title we’ve been given (baseball player, CEO, gymnast, teacher, musician) we begin to see each other differently.

We truly believe that everyone has a story to share, and through sharing those stories and allowing our lives to be transformed, addictions can be beat, relationships can be restored, and silent brokenness can be repaired.

Though, we don’t have a Bob Costas narrating our backstories in real life. When you’re annoyed with your co-worker or your waiter at dinner, Bob doesn’t pop in to the scene telling you about their horrendous childhood, or that they’re spouse left them a few days ago. Most of our backstories remain hidden behind the curtain. Consequently, we feel little to no empathy for the humans we interact with every day.

But what if we took the time out of our day to know more about our classmate’s life? Would we begin to support the kid that used to bother us?

Odds are, the majority of the people in your life are hiding a backstory, and some of these stories may never be unveiled. However, I encourage you to seek them out. Ask them about their story, and share your story with them, no matter how ugly or scary it may be.

You may find yourself rooting for someone you once knew nothing about, and you may pick up a few fans along the way.


Former Olympian steps out from behind the curtain to tell her story:

 

 

(Source: Pexels.com)

(Source: Pexels.com)

It was one of those days where everything sucks.

Portland had hit freezing temperatures all week. I had to scrape ice off my windshield while trying to warm up with reheated, 3 day-old coffee. The holiday season had barely begun and already, I’d been hit with a tidal wave of work and stress.

Now in my car, I was driving and beyond pissed. Anxiety, fear, fatigue, hunger.

I’d slipped into that place where I just hate the person I was becoming more and more every minute.

At a stoplight ahead was a maroon Cadillac Deville.

I slowed up behind it, waiting for the light to turn. Green means go, but the Cadillac didn’t move. I waited, gave a light honk – maybe he was looking at his phone. Nothing. Then an elongated blast. I was seething.

I poured all my frustration cathartically into the blaring of my car horn.

The Cadillac door opened and an elderly man steped out onto the icy asphalt. His face was stern.

“Oh s**t,” I said to myself and locked my doors, expecting an oncoming barrage of abuse for my tactless honking. Cars were lining up behind us as he shuffled to my driver’s side window. I cracked it an inch, just to be safe.

“Can you give me a push?” he asked.

He was defeated, frustrated and fatigued. Just like me.

“Um, ya, of course.” I pulled the emergency brake and hopped out into the street. Putting my gloved hands on the back of his car, I looked back and saw the guy in the car behind me get out. So did the guy behind him. As a team, we steered the broken-down Cadillac through the intersection and into a curbside parking spot.

We all nodded to each other, guy stuff, playing it cool. The old man gave us all a wave of thanks and remarked how he had a tow truck on the way.

Back in my car, the light turned green and I drove through the intersection. I fiddled with the radio and then it hit me – I feel better. Wow. And not just a little better, like all the way better.

Instantly, my stress, fear, and dread leveled off.

It was a miracle, almost supernatural. How is that possible?

Five minutes before I hated everyone on earth. Then I pushed an old man’s Cadillac Deville thirty-five feet with three strangers and suddenly I was cured. Really?

As it turns out, the science on this phenomenon is quite robust. Social connections, like the one I had, that engage the physicality of our bodies and the empathic centers of our brains, release the reserves of a chemical called Oxytocin.

On a macro level, Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us bond with others and handle stress. It’s most famously known as the chemical released during sex, but it also helps mothers bond with their children, reduces social anxiety, relieves pain, fights depression, and even promotes generosity.

I’m not a doctor.

I’m not a therapist.

I’m not a psychologist.


But serving others and exercising your empathy muscles will make you feel better. Honestly. 


But serving others and exercising your empathy muscles will make you feel better. Honestly.

Studies show that volunteering can boost happiness, decrease depression, relieve stress, and help you live longer.

The same is true for charitable giving. In 1989, an economist named James Andreoni theorized the Warm-Glow Giving phenomenon, concluding that people received positive emotional feelings activated by helping others. On average, people who gave away more of their money reported significantly higher levels of happiness than those who didn’t.

In 2010, more than 253 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants in the U.S.

That’s 253 million in a nation of only 311 million people.

I’m not against anti-depressants. I think they’re important, helpful, and often times necessary. But supplementing pharmaceuticals with concrete acts of service, charity, empathy, and exercise is the sure fire way to feel better.

Want to make this day happier than yesterday?

Give your money away. Give with your time. Volunteer. Serve. Exercise the empathic centers of your brain. Not only will you start feeling better yourself, you’ll impact the lives of others at the same time.

“For it is in giving that we receive.” — St. Francis of Assisi


This blog post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission. 

(Photo source: Pexels)

(Photo source: Pexels)

My wife and I are selling our house. If you know me, that’s quite a big statement.

See, I crave comfort. I’m what you would call a “nester.” I like my own space, I want it to be set up just how I like it, I don’t like change, and I don’t like being uncomfortable. Selling a house involves all of the latter and none of the former.


I crave comfort.


So why are we doing it? There are a variety of reasons, but it just makes sense on many fronts. And as we’re going through the process, we’re having to get rid of a lot of, how should I say it, things. Things we haven’t really used in a while, things we don’t really need, things that don’t really serve a purpose. And as we’re getting rid of those things, I’m realizing how attached I can become to the little, trivial, ad inconsequential items.

My wife would tell you that I’m somewhat of a hoarder. Not on the level of the TV show, but I don’t like to throw stuff away that I think could one day be useful. Our garage has a corner dedicated to scrap wood — random 2x4s, plywood, and even old chair legs that I’ve convinced myself could someday come in handy. At least I’m finally to the point where I’ll admit I have “hoarding tendencies.”

That became really clear a couple weeks ago as we started the process of getting the house ready. That’s when I found my wife getting rid of two small, red stools. These are stools she got at Target and have zero sentimental value. None. Zilch. But yet I couldn’t believe she was getting rid of them.

“What are you doing?” I asked her accusingly.

“I’m getting rid of them,” she said very mater-of-factly. “We don’t need them.”

“But—”

She interrupted me: “You wouldn’t have even noticed they were gone if you hadn’t seen me getting them ready.”

She was right. I probably sat on those stools twice in the last year. I passed them thousands of times and never even gave them a second look, but yet was having mild anxiety at the thought of them not being around anymore. And that’s when I realized how easily I can attach myself to things.

Things can control me. I love gadgets; I love getting new ones and playing with them like a 10-year-old; and I love the feeling of getting something I’ve wanted for a long time.


I also think the desire for more — the desire to try and make ourselves whole and complete by acquiring fame, money, and a new whatever — is a lack of understanding where our true value lies and comes from.


I can’t give you a deep, scientific reason why (although I’m sure it has a little something to do with my OCD). But as I started thinking more and more about it, I watched Shawn Johnson’s film again. I think she has a better handle on it than I do: While I’m sure there are some brain chemistry reasons why I attach myself to things, I also think the desire for more — the desire to try and make ourselves whole and complete by acquiring fame, money, and a new whatever — is a lack of understanding where our true value lies and comes from.

I know, that’s easier to say than it is to constantly remember. But the times I do remember it are when I feel OK about not getting something. The times I do remember it are or when I find myself less jealous of those around me. The times I do remember it are when I can watch my wife get rid of some old stools and not feel anxious. And that’s such a better state to be in.

I guess that’s one more reason why selling the house is a good thing.

(Photo source: Pexels)

(Photo source: Pexels)

Do me a favor. Finish this sentence: “I’d be happy if ______________”.

I’ll give you a minute.

Write it down if you want.

It can be more than one thing.

Got it? I bet a lot of us had common themes.

I’d be happy if I had more money.

I’d be happy if I had a better job or got into a certain school.

I’d be happy if my marriage/family issues were resolved.

I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news, but your answer is an illusion.

Think of the times when you got a good job or bought a new car or got a new smartphone. It made you happy, sure. But for how long? A week? A month? The feeling those things provides you is fleeting. Before long, you find things about that job you don’t like. The car gets a few scratches. The phone is no longer the latest model. That’s because trying to gain happiness from these things will never fulfill us.

Tony Hale — the actor who played Buster on “Arrested Development” and Gary on “Veep” — recently gave an interview where he said he had an epiphany: “[I]f you’re not practicing contentment where you are, you’re not going to be content when you get what you want … .”


“[I]f you’re not practicing contentment where you are, you’re not going to be content when you get what you want … .”


Tony watched people desperately try to get important acting gigs, only to be disappointed when they finally got it because when they woke up the next morning, they were still the same person.

No matter what you used to fill in the blank, it cannot truly make you happy, because it won’t change who you are.

In order to be truly happy, we have to find our worth in something that will never fade, or break, or just plain get old.

“The guy who has the new cell phone” is an identity that won’t last.

“The girl with the adorable baby” identity will fade away over the years.

Having more money just leads to wanting more money, not happiness.

Honestly, this is a huge part of why my faith is important to me. If it’s true that I was created by a God who loves me, I don’t have to derive my self-worth from stuff or situations. Instead, I can be happy in the midst of any situation, since my happiness comes from an entirely different place. It’s only when I anchor my happiness in that which will not change, that I can truly be happy.

Shawn Johnson talks about this in her recent I Am Second film. She was getting her self-worth from the results of her athletic performance and it wasn’t until she started looking to a different source that she found happiness in her identity.

So let’s tweak that question at the start of this post. Instead of “I’d be happy if ___________”, let’s play with a new sentence: “I’m happy because ___________”.

What are the things that will never change and which make you truly happy in life? That come hell or high water, you can always turn to?

For me, I have found that the only answer that helps me to be content is this: “I’m happy because I believe God loves me.”

Throw a comment in and tell me what your answer is, because I believe every human is valuable and deserves to know they matter.

Olympian David Boudia about to perform a dive. After embarrassment in 2008, he became a gold medal-winner in 2012. (Photo source: Thomas Nelson)

Olympian David Boudia about to perform a dive. After embarrassment in 2008, he became a gold medal-winner in 2012. (Photo source: Thomas Nelson)

As I stood on the 10-meter platform in Beijing in 2008, preparing for my final dive in the aqua-colored, puffy-looking Water Cube (the venue for all the aquatic events), I wanted to savor the moment. This was the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment for hundreds of athletes like me who had sweated, pushed, lifted, trained, sacrificed, and willed their way to the Olympics.

For me, that Olympic experience amounted to a whopping total of about 8.5 seconds in my individual event. The final in the 10-meter platform competition consists of six dives. A dive takes about 1.4 seconds. That means I spent roughly five hours a day, six days a week, three hundred days a year training and preparing for those 8.5 seconds. Plus, the fact that millions of people around the world were watching me as I stood there in a skimpy suit added to my drive to attain perfection. Talk about pressure.

My Olympic journey had been an all-consuming passion and obsession since I was seven years old. That was the start of my pursuit of the American dream—my belief that I could achieve riches, fame, and success. For me, the Olympics were my vehicle of choice to get the goods. The desire accelerated over time. Once I made the Olympics, just making it there was no longer enough. I wanted to win a medal. Then winning a medal wasn’t enough. I wanted to win gold.

With a singular focus that never wavered, I pursued this dream of Olympic glory not for some noble purpose but because of what I thought it could deliver. My only desire in life was to please myself and do everything I could to make my life better, and I believed a gold medal would achieve that. A gold medal would mean fame and adoration. A gold medal would mean success. It would mean acceptance. It would mean happiness and joy.

So, relentlessly and doggedly, that’s what I chased. And the harder I pressed and the closer I got to that goal, the more miserable life became. Every time I thought I had almost achieved the goal, suddenly a new one took its place. No matter what I accomplished and no matter how happy I should have been, fulfillment always seemed just beyond my grasp.


The harder I pressed and the closer I got to that goal, the more miserable life became


Sound familiar?

Maybe everyone else in your life thinks you have it all together, but you know better. You look in the mirror and you see the emptiness staring back at you that eludes everyone else. Sometimes it feels as though your life is a disaster. You wonder if you’ll ever find joy, satisfaction, and peace. Maybe you think once you lose that ten pounds, everything will be better. Maybe you’re enslaved to your work, and you think your next promotion will solve so many problems. Maybe you’ve been looking for fulfillment in the next drink, the next hit, the next puff, or the next conquest.

I know exactly what it’s like, that unrelenting mirage of a promise that happiness is just around the next corner. Once you get there, you find a mouthful of sand instead.

If only I could get that scholarship. If only I could get married. If only my kids would obey. If only I could land that job. If only my spouse were different. If only the chemo would work.

If only.

My “if only” had partially come true when I made the Olympic team in 2008 and achieved a goal I had set as a boy. It was the American dream fulfilled. Now here I was, standing in front of thousands of Chinese fans in the first Olympics China had ever hosted. My final dive was meaningless because my previous two dives had left me far from medal contention. Nevertheless, I wanted to go out in memorable fashion. I wanted to absorb all I could of the atmosphere and the adulation. Normally I try to tune out the externals that can distract. This time, however, I looked around at the crowd. I tried to suck every bit of excitement and pleasure that I could out of my final attempt.

I enjoyed the moment. I took a deep breath and launched myself off the platform. And I turned in one of the worst dives I had ever done in a competition. The Olympics that began with such promise and potential had ended in embarrassment.

The days that followed that first Olympic experience marked a downward spiral of hopelessness and despair. My failed pursuit of Olympic glory had left me feeling abandoned and alone. I felt betrayed, rejected, and defeated by the “god” I had sacrificed everything to appease. I would have utterly scoffed at the Olympic creed declaring that the important thing “is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.” What nonsense that seemed to me in the aftermath of my greatest episode of heartbreak and disappointment. My whole purpose had proven hollow, and the destruction that followed left my life in tatters. I didn’t know it at the time, but my purpose needed to be redirected and redeemed. I needed to be redirected and redeemed.

If you’re fighting against hopelessness and emptiness in life, I’ve been there. If you’re battling fear and laziness, I’ve been there too. If you feel aimless, directionless, and purposeless, you’re not the only one. And I can tell you absolutely and without reservation, there is hope for you.


If you’re fighting against hopelessness and emptiness in life, I’ve been there. If you’re battling fear and laziness, I’ve been there too. If you feel aimless, directionless, and purposeless, you’re not the only one. And I can tell you absolutely and without reservation, there is hope for you.


(Source: Thomas Nelson)

(Source: Thomas Nelson)

Our hearts are made to love and to pursue meaning and purpose. Too often, though, we settle for chasing after things of inferior value—cheap imitations of the real thing. As it has for so many others, the American dream seemed to offer happiness and fulfillment but crushed me in the end when it didn’t deliver.

I’m thankful that my story doesn’t end with the failure and heartache I found in Beijing and in the days that followed. In the years since, my purpose in life has shifted and I have discovered something greater than worldly recognition and fame. Something greater than the American dream. Something far greater than even the gold medal that would ultimately be mine.

David Boudia is a professional diver who won gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, and will be competing in the 2016 games in Rio. This article is adapted from his new book, “Greater Than Gold,” available August 2.

Excerpt adapted from “Greater Than Gold” by David Boudia Copyright © 2016 by David Boudia. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.DavidBoudia.com.

For another story on overcoming failure, check out Shawn Johnson’s short film: