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January 15, 2024

There’s healing in going around in circles.

We have heard the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result.”

It’s not surprising, then, that circles can get a bad rap. Mainly, the concept of “going around in circles.”

This online image of the constant work of dealing with our issues features an image of a circle, followed by the line drawing of another circle winding upward. Statements accompany that image: “what’s actually happening” and “making progress.”

What is the difference between the two circles?

One is tightly contained, and the other is the open-ended, winding line.

We often hear the phrase, “going outside of the box.”

But maybe a better expression is that of “going outside of the circle.”

Let’s study the two circles and see if we can get any explanations of how we feel about them.

“What it feels like circle…”

First, there is the tightly wound circle. When we look at its image, it appears to be neat, tidy, orderly, predictable, and contained.

That’s the deception we often believe, as we become discouraged about our recovery experiences, whatever they may be. The circle image literally has written within it, “going in circles.” And we take that to heart. We accept that even as we feel like we are projecting a successful and together exterior image, inwardly, we feel the turmoil of futile chaos.

But why should anybody’s recovery process be neat, tidy, orderly, predictable, and contained?

Where is the answer, let alone, the healing, in that?

Yeah, sure, it may look more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It may seem like we’re getting better.

But the late John Lennon’s lyrics to his song, “Crippled Inside” capture the reality…

“…You can shine your shoes and wear a suit,
You can comb your hair and look quite cute.
You can hide your face behind a smile,
One thing you can’t hide,
Is when you’re crippled inside.

You can wear a mask and paint your face,
You can call yourself the human race.
You can wear a collar and a tie,
One thing you can’t hide,
Is when you’re crippled inside…”

This pretty, neat, and tidy circle, even one that feels like we are going nowhere good in is not the accurate, complete story of what’s going on with us, circle-wise.

What’s more authentic is that of the second circle…

“What’s actually happening circle…”

We can be so quick to judge appearance. This circle is no different.

How many of us judge it as less desirable, messy, and unwanted?

Our recovery looks like a slinky toy, going out of control, yet going nowhere we want to go.

But is that really the case here?

Looking at this circle, we see things are unwinding, untangling. That’s what can be happening in this open-ended and atypical experience. What could be judgmentally viewed as chaotic and messy, perhaps, is simply the untangling process of recovery at work.

It means getting dirty, delving into ugly, unflattering, disorganized, and painful things that can feel like we are going nowhere good in our lives.

“Feels like,” however, is often different than “what is.”

Circular Movement: Progress.

And what if “what is” exemplifies improvement? What if we are, indeed, getting better?

The New King James Version of Biblical Scripture phrases it this way:

“The way of life winds upward for the wise, that he may turn away from hell below.”

Proverbs 15:14

Let’s look at this scriptural take.

First, phrasing is important. Word choice is significant.

“The way of life…”

The way of life?

Meaning our choices and our behaviors? Meaning our efforts, even?

Huh, sounds like an imperfect, complicated recovery process to me.



The unraveling, moving motion of what we’re doing in life.

Are we paralyzed? Are we trying for something?

That’s movement. That is winding.

Furthermore, with this scriptural version, the word, “winds” is italicized.

Biblical scholars have purported that the significance of the italics emphasizes how special attention must be directed to the word choice. There’s a lesson waiting to be taught.

If we pay attention to it.

But it’s not just winding, for winding’s sake. There is also a direction that is happening here with the winding.


Which way is our messy, unraveling recovery process going?


It’s leading us in a better direction, even if that’s not the feeling.

Messiness prompts us to get help, to get therapy, to stop keeping secrets. We seek help because we know we do not have it together. Our circular behavior of yore indicates we need to moving in a messy way.

Sometimes, the messier it looks, the better it’s going.

“…for the wise…”

Those of us in the frustrating, failure and setback-rich experiences of recovery can feel stupid. Pointless. Hopeless. Like fools.

But the very existence of our struggling can indicate that our experiences are changing our lives.

“…that he may turn away from hell below.”

We are living in hells of our own making. We come to that conclusion.

And we want to change that hell.

So, our circle changes. Even if it looks messy.

Rethinking circles. There is a changed shape.

Is it what we would have chosen for ourselves?

Probably not.

Is it how we desire to appear to ourselves and others?

Probably not.

Does it feel easy and enjoyable?

Nope, again, probably not.

Do we get the lesson right away, learning from our first attempt at improving?


But “going in circles” may be the exact thing we need to do, adhering to our own unique timetable and set of personal experiences.

We can reframe what we’re going through.

It starts by rethinking what us “going in circles” means to us.

Copyright © 2024 by Sheryle Cruse


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