Fighting My Negative Bias

Fighting My Negative Bias

A funny thing happened in our on-campus gym the other day. A song came on, and my friend commented that he loved it but couldn’t remember the name. I loved the song too and couldn’t place the name. Then it hit me like a brick. Not only did I remember the artist and title, but I also remembered that I worked on that song and won a Grammy for my contribution. What an eye-opening moment.

Why do I remember all my losses in pristine detail but rarely my wins?

Why do negatives take up so much of my energy instead of positives?

Am I that big of a pessimist?

Maybe not. “Negativity bias” is our tendency to remember negative experiences and dwell on them. Negativity bias means we feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than the joy of success.

I love basketball. I can win 20 games in a row. But if I lose just one, I’ll ruminate on that single loss, replaying all the moments I could have performed better. Do I take negative bias to an extreme? Even professionals miss a shot, strike out, or drop a pass. Why do I think I have to be perfect?

I want to be the guy who can forget the previous play and move on.

I find it challenging to pinpoint when this thought behavior began. Rarely, if ever, did I get in trouble as a child. I was generally a quiet kid. My parents weren’t demanding regarding school, and I always enjoyed doing well. I felt like it was expected, and the work came relatively easily. I took pride in my grades without much motivation from my parents. School was a breeze.

Maybe school came too easy for me, so when I got into the world and experienced failure, I wasn’t prepared?

Case in point: I took Calculus during my first year of college and bombed it, even though math was my favorite subject. It was the first time I failed at any academic endeavor. It crushed me. I didn’t know how to process it. I left that school after just a quarter and essentially gave up on college. Hello avoidance, my old friend….

My divorce is another major “collapse” in my life that never fails to halt me in my tracks. I made my vows with the full intention of fulfilling those solemn promises. The disintegration of that relationship and the toll it has taken on my children haunts me. Even in times of prosperity, my mind replays the horrible life decisions I made during that time. “Selfish” is the only word that can describe my state of mind. My addiction was my priority, not my family. It is an awful feeling, a dirty mirror.

And so it is negative bias that has fed my inability to achieve long-term sobriety.

Over the years, I’ve tried quitting cold turkey, obtaining stints of sobriety that lasted a month or two. Before my daughter was born, I stopped for six months, throwing myself into fitness (running and weight training), and I was able to find a balance in my life.

The day after my daughter was born, I celebrated her birth by buying a half pint of vodka, and it went downhill from there.

I attended one other recovery program before No Longer Bound, and I stayed sober for nine months. Things were good; my ex-wife and I were building a healthy co-parenting relationship, my kids looked forward to seeing me, and I received a job promotion. Then one sunny summer day at Piedmont Park, I convinced myself it was okay to have a beer. Slowly, my life slipped back into a destructive cycle, each failure building on the last. Every time I get overconfident, it leads to disaster. Discarding all the progress and sobriety I had achieved over nine months, I focused only on my failure.

Talking with my therapist at No Longer Bound, I’ve realized I’m an “all or nothing” guy. If I complete a job and receive one piece of criticism, I tell myself that I did horribly. If I tell a joke and one person doesn’t laugh, then I’m not funny. If I were sober for six months and had one drink, I failed at sobriety — so I might as well drink until I can’t feel anymore. My fear of making a mistake paralyzes me. My inability to take risks and put myself out there has no doubt cost me countless opportunities.

Negative bias feeds my depression and anxiety like an all-you-can-eat buffet. By not valuing my achievements in life, I undermine their significance while simultaneously inflating negative experiences. This dichotomy makes balance in my life incredibly difficult. I always feel like I’m swimming upstream.

“I’ve grown most not from victories but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how he teaches us.” – Serena Williams. 

What an inspiring way to re-frame the perception of losing. The most accomplished female athlete of all time probably knows a thing or two. Her approach to losing can be applied to all aspects of my life.

At No Longer Bound I have an opportunity to make mistakes with a safety net of brothers, counselors, and mentors. People who can help me change my perspective of negatives, appreciating them as learning experiences instead.

Fighting negative bias requires me to be present and grateful. In being present, I acknowledge that I cannot change the past, and I’m not the feeling associated with the past. With presence comes gratitude, optimism, forgiveness, and compassion.

As with everything in my life, I don’t expect to make this change immediately. It will take time and practice. Here, I can be reminded that I won’t get everything right the first time, and it’s okay. Ironically, this attempt to change will be filled with failures, each one being a lesson to build on and never give up.

Michael’s Reflections Upon NLB Graduation

Michael’s Reflections Upon NLB Graduation

Michael L’s entrance into No Longer Bound 13 months ago was, essentially, a plea deal. His other options could be considered shock therapy.

“I was either going to prison, or I was going to die,” he indicated.

Michael graduated in January, but has remained on campus as an intern in the Resident Tech department. His drug-addiction odyssey features influence and abetment from, or through, sources from which you’d expect the opposite:

  • First his older brother contributed by inviting a 14-year-old Michael to join him and friends in the family’s basement to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol.
  • Then, unwittingly, his surgeon prescribed an over-abundance of pain-killing opiates following a knee repair, enabling Michael to over-indulge.
  • A court-ordered rehab stint connected an 18-year-old Michael with some deplorable mentors: older, more seasoned drug users who planted a desire for heavier drugs that would emerge after a drug-free interlude of about nine months.
  • Treatment in drug court, an alternative to incarceration, although completed successfully gained Michael a female companion, whose relapse may have precipitated his own – with tragic consequences.

Michael’s first drug bust came as a high school senior, somewhere between the football scholarship he turned down in hopes of landing an offer to play baseball, and foregoing his senior baseball season out of resentment for a coach he believes turned him into the law.

Some of Michael’s reflections,
in his own words.

The 10 years between high school and No Longer Bound included ruptured family relations, homelessness, drug dealing, brief periods of sobriety, lock-ups in county jails, escalation into methamphetamines and heroin, and the aforementioned barely survived drug overdoses.

“I found myself down in south Florida treatment hopping. From one treatment to the next, getting kicked out, trying another one. That was tough. I never had a stable place to live, never had any stability in my life at all. It was hard to live like that.”

An NLB grad then dating Michael’s sister suggested No Longer Bound, and the grad’s mother helped get Michael to Atlanta, while an attorney persuaded a judge to give a year-long, faith-based program a chance.

“At first, I went through a lot,” said Michael. “I actually came in fresh off of drugs, so I had to detox. I’d say the first two to three months were probably the toughest for me. I didn’t know anybody; I wasn’t sure how to acclimate. But the thing that stuck with me was I knew I couldn’t leave because I’d have a warrant out for my arrest.”

A pinnacle moment occurred when Michael fulfilled a class assignment by writing a grieving letter to his deceased girlfriend, then reading it at her grave site while accompanied by a counselor and classmates. He described the episode in a social media post last October:

The night before, I sat on the stool during house church and asked for prayer. TJ prayed, ‘God take him by the right hand and lead him where he needs to go.’ Austin prayed, ‘Be not afraid, because that’s what God tells people in the Bible when something big is going to happen.’

prayed for help and guidance, making it known I wasn’t even sure if God was listening or out there.

next morning, standing in the cemetery, the engraving on her grave marker said,

em>For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)

at campus, Austin wrote me a letter saying “… I know God heard us last night and heard you today, because I prayed for you Be Not Afraid and TJ prayed that God would take you by the right hand and guide you.”

was in shock, realizing God was doing something for me I could not do for myself. This was enough for me to know, without a doubt, something is out there listening to us and that it is time I allow it into my life.”

Apparently, God proved Himself to a once-doubting Michael.

“I would say the peak at No Longer Bound is establishing a good relationship with God, and having counsel around me to help guide me do so. Once I wrapped my head around that, I really just sold out.”

Michael will apply his life experiences in a Philippians 3:13-14 type of way …. forgetting what lies behind … pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Offering encouragement at his graduation, Bill Eubanks, one of the senior recovery specialists, put the heart-wrenching assignments that brought about Michael’s transformation into perspective for the one-time high school football star.

“It was like two-a-days,” said Eubanks, referring to grueling preseason football training, “and now it’s game time.”  

Your financial supports helps NLB continue to transform lives.
In many instances, the transformation ripples
not just throughout this life but for eternity. 

To Whom It May Concern

To Whom It May Concern

To Whom it May Concern,

In January 2021, I was a few planned steps away from killing myself. A few days later, I put my head on a pillow at No Longer Bound. If they couldn’t fix me, they said God could.

I arrived as a drunk who no longer had the will to fight. I was told I was crazy for choosing a one year program for my first try. The thing about me is, I don’t do things half-heartedly. When I drank, I drank everything. When I smoked, I smoked it all. When I ruined relationships, I ruined them completely. When I burned bridges, there wasn’t ash left for the wind to blow. 

Did I need a one year program to save my life? Absolutely. I need more. Given the opportunity, I would start over on day one. I need a community where accountability and transparency are the goals. I’m not ready to go my own way yet. I do not have the tools in place to keep myself healthy.

Thinking back, I was a walking, sometimes stumbling, sometimes crawling mess of a man. I was lost, literally and figuratively. I was angry and confused, in constant need of being drunk. Drinking decided when I would talk, who I would be with, how I would feel, when I would work, when I would sleep, and how much money I had. The fact that I had a problem for so long without getting help disappoints me to this day.

I could lie and say I came here for myself, but I won’t. I came because I was afraid of where I would end up, if I killed myself. I came to save a relationship with a woman. I came to save relationships within my family.

But I am staying for myself! 

I was mad at the world because, at eight years old, a man chose to abuse me. I was angry because alcohol made me feel better (until it didn’t.) I was mad because every relationship ended, when I disregarded the feelings and well-being of others. 

I could not love myself, let alone anyone else. I could not understand how to be a decent man. I was broken when it came to showing and receiving love. It is something I have struggled with since that day when I was eight.

I was angry at God for taking my daughter. I still am. I am angry when I think about laying on her mother’s stomach, feeling her kick. I become angrier when I think of no longer feeling her kicks or movement anymore. Without warning, my daughter’s life was taken.

I was mad at myself for everything I’ve done in my life, as well as the things I have been too cowardly to attempt. I was angry God woke me up in the mornings, when I had consumed enough alcohol that would have killed other people.

I am staying at No Longer Bound because I am tired of hating myself and the world. And, I am learning that I actually like people. And I like what they like about me. I like that I am a man worth knowing. I know I still have work to do, and I know this is the place to do that work.

I will be here. I am not leaving. I am staying.

I am stubborn and God made me that way. I will do what it takes to keep healing. Until I can say that I love myself and the people God puts in my world, I will put my head on a pillow here at night, and I will sit in the dining hall each morning

I was a jobless, disappointing pothead, alcoholic. I was a man in pain with fears I have carried since I was a child. I thought God was a mean “cloud man” who hurt people in situations they could never handle, one day, judging them for their mistakes. 

I am here because I now know that is not correct. 

I am here because this place fixes people.  

I am here because I want to be fixed.

I am staying, because I’m not done yet.















Judgments and Vows

Judgments and Vows

We all judge other people. It’s human nature. 

The definition of the word judgment is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. In Revelation phase of No Longer Bound’s curriculum, we are asked to look into our judgments—why we make them, as well as the vows we make in response.

For example, if someone makes you feel less than for asking too many questions, you might say, “I would never make people feel stupid like that. (judgement) I will never ask so many questions again. (vow)

The judgement is towards the other person’s motive, and the vow is the promise to ourself.

The problem is—both the judgement and the vow are based on a lie. Example: “Asking questions means a person is stupid.” And sometimes our judgments can be a response to a lie we believe about ourselves.

I am better than that. I’m more honest than that. I would never do such a thing.

Press and Print

Our judgments are often a response to a lie we believe. We use these judgements to guard ourselves from fear or irritation we feel towards someone else.

The problem is, both the judgement and the vow are based on a lie. Example: “Asking questions means a person is stupid.” And sometimes our judgments can be a response to a lie we believe about ourselves. “I am better than that.” “I’m more honest than that.”

When our “lie button” is pushed, a judgment is printed, and our self-defense is activated to guard our self-worth. 

I don’t Have The Power, But God Does

In our humanness, we are not effective judges.

God said to Samuel, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

With the direction given to Samuel, the Lord was trying to change our beliefs. We skew our feelings based on half-truths, mix assumptions and the desire to make ourselves feel important. We work to feel better about ourselves by protecting the lies we believe.

Every judgment is passed through an internal filter of predetermined beliefs. Beliefs either learned early in life, and they are important tools we use to break others down while our vows build us up.

But vows and judgments separate us from others and from God’s help. 

partners with god

As we ask God to help us renounce both our judgements and our vows, we set ourselves up for partnership with Him. Resentments foster unhappiness, and decreasing our resentments towards others (as well as our vows) will bring both happiness and more opportunities to connect with others.

I challenge you to look into the judgments you pass on others. Also, examine the lies you are protecting with your judgments. Perhaps your judgements are deeply rooted as a coping mechanism from childhood or newly learned. Either way, I challenge you to ask God to show where the lies within yourself dwell and ask for them to be changed.


  “Do not judge, of you will be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.…” (Matthew 7:1)

-Austin, No Longer Bound Resident 2021