Day 4 | Your spouse is probably right

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Yep, it’s one of the cruel blessings of being with someone who knows you well. Accept it. Grow in it. Enjoy it. Hang an ornament on it.

There’s just no getting around it: Your spouse is probably right.

Being vulnerable during the holidays is part of a healthy relationship. Your spouse or significant other just sees you and knows you in ways you don’t see you.

I first became aware of this fact, and it was kind of unnerving, because it was so early in my marriage. I had finished talking on the phone, and my wife said to me, “Hey, how is your mom?”

“How do you know who I was talking to?” I asked.

She’s like, “I can always tell when you’re talking to my mom, and I can always tell when you’re talking to your mom.” Then I said, “Oh, that’s neat”. What I thought was “Oh my hell, who did I marry and how did I not realize she has super powers”. Yeah, it was a little unnerving, kinda cool, kinda odd. I didn’t notice that. I didn’t see that. She did. Next thought “this is going to take some getting used to”.

As we step into the holiday season, you will hear your spouse say stuff that you might typically argue about. There is that element of, “No, I don’t really do that!”

One of the kids might try to yank your chain, and you want to snap, “What do you mean by that?”

If you rupture family harmony by over reacting, be a little quicker to repair it. You don’t need to wait until after the holidays. It’s okay to say, “Yeah, babe, I think you might be right on that one. Or, okay, kid, you’re probably on to something about me.” Recovering well is more valuable than perfection.

Step back and embrace the reality that your family perceives you in ways you’re not aware of. If you find yourself surprised, defensive or anxious about their sharing you with you (being vulnerable!), see it as an opportunity to grow. It is a blessing in disguise. This holiday season, make your vulnerability a gift to others—and to yourself.


–Dr. Kevin Gilliland, for the team at Innovation 360


Day 3 | Decorating? Seriously, this is your Alamo?

Charlie Brown:  I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”

Linus Van Pelt:  “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”

Okay, let’s admit it, we’ve all been Charlie Brown when it comes to decorating for Christmas.

Decorating for the holidays. Seriously? You’re going to make it your Alamo? This is the hill you’re going to die on? They make movies out of these kinds of fights. The spouse wants a big tree with lights, camera and action. You don’t want the fuss or later mess to clean up. So you decide to make this you line in the sand, the “this far and no farther” conversation. Really?

Decorating disagreements are usually the purview of husbands and wives. Sometimes, moms and dads can go at it with the kids who, especially as they grow older, don’t want to participate.

I was talking with a colleague in the office the other day about the Alamo…uh, I mean decorating. “Oh, yeah, that happened last weekend with me,” he said. I’m like, “Oh yeah, it happens with all of us.” So much emotion, so little thought.

Some of us can have strong emotions about holiday decorating. That’s because memory is a powerful influence this time of year. For you, it might be a begrudging trip to get a Christmas tree. For your kids, it might be a story they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives at the holidays. What you decide to do is not nearly as important as how you make the decision. Is it a discussion or is it a decree? Is it all emotion and no rational thought? Who is it for and what is it for? You choose. Well, you and whoever it is who wants you to move the furniture again this year.

Good news. You get to choose how you’re going to step onto this hill. Never forget: Between stimulus and response, there’s a space called choice. This Christmas, you don’t have be a Charlie Brown.

[Linus knocks on an aluminum Christmas tree, which gives a metallic “clank”]

Linus Van Pelt: “This really brings Christmas close to a person.”

Charlie Brown: [gazes in amazement] “Fantastic.”


–Dr. Kevin Gilliland, for the team at Innovation 360


Day 2 | How are you surprised by this?

How are you surprised by this?

Did you not see the Jack-o’-lantern and the Christmas tree together a week before Thanksgiving at Walmart? How in the world can people be surprised, and yet, if you listen to people talk, they seemed alarmed and surprised that it “snuck up on me”.

In the past week, I’ve had several people say to me “I hate the holidays”, to which I reply, “really?” Then, almost every time, I get “Well, no, I hate my family.” To which I reply “Really??” That’s when the responses start to go a lot of different directions – a sister, a party, the finances and gifts, the travel.

Those are the things that seemed to leave us feeling stressed, overwhelmed, panicked, and maybe sad.They leave us feeling this season is so difficult that we wish it would go away. If you’re feeling any of those, you’re in good company, it’s pretty common this time of year.

Let’s look at a few things that might help.

If you want these holidays to be different, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. What worked well for you during last year’s Christmas season? What felt good and fun and left you feeling recharged? What do you wish you would have done but didn’t?

What didn’t work well? What has you shaking your head, rolling your eyes and feeling drained by what happened last Christmas? What did you want to skip last year?

To borrow some wisdom from an old Englishman, Oswald Chambers, “Whenever we experience something difficult in our personal lives, we are tempted to blame God.” And if most of us were honest, the difficulty of the season may be user error – I agreed to do the party, I agreed to find that random gift everyone on the planet wants, I agreed to talk with my brother about how he acts at Christmas – and the list goes on.

Maybe it’s a good year to not do all those things. Maybe it’s a year to think about the role you play in this season being so hectic and over scheduled.

Do the stuff you enjoy! Minimize the stuff you don’t. And maybe, just maybe, you will get more by doing less.


–Dr. Kevin Gilliland, for the team at Innovation 360


Day 1 | Santa is Dead

So…we’re going to ease into “The New 12 Days of Christmas” with this declaration: Santa is dead.

Okay, glad that’s out of the way.

Of course, this is a touchy point this time of year. Actually, it came out of a discussion we had around the office recently. “How do I deal with Santa and my spirituality?”

There is an unmistakable convergence of religion this time of year. But let’s face it: there are some of us who can’t hold the Baby Jesus and Santa at the same time. This conflict of religion and secularism (or commercialism) is a very real crisis for many of us. Especially young parents. So, what do we do?”

If you don’t know an elementary school teacher, you need to find one in the next couple of weeks. Ask him or her if this tension is a real struggle for parents.

I just so happen to know an elementary school teacher really well and her latest story is a true tale from her classroom. She had one set of parents, a bit rigid in their thinking, who told their son “Billy” that “there’s no such thing as Santa.” Of course Billy, in an effort to cling to the idea of a magical man who brings presents every year, responded, “Well, “Cindy’s parents told her there is a Santa!”—to which Billy’s parents replied, “Well, Cindy’s parents are lying to her.”

It didn’t take any time for Billy to spread the news around the classroom. And just like that, Santa was dead for a classroom of former believers. A small part of the childhood seemed lost forever.

All of this came full circle for me the other day. I was watching Polar Express, not a big deal, I have kids. Now, to be fair, my kids are in college but I like that film in spite of its creepy animation. Remember in the movie how the little boy can’t hear the little bell? At the risk of overdoing the psychology of it all, this is symbolic of not being able to hear the Spirit of Christmas.

What does this mean for us? Somewhere along the way of growing up, some of us have forgotten how to play, how to have fun, believing in something magical. We’ve lost the connection with our childhood. So my question to us all this holiday seasons is, when did we lose that ability to play? To have fun?

This time of year, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Santa drops off gifts once a year and appears to only eat cookies and drink milk. That’s a temporary jolt of happiness that tends to fade as soon as all of the gifts are opened. Religion, on the other hand, can change lives and instill joy every day of the year.

The next time you hear a group of kids talking about Santa, listen to what they have to say. Take note of their excitement and their pure joy of this magical time of year. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll rekindle the fun of the season you once loved. And, most certainly, feel free to also celebrate a more meaningful reason for the season.


–Dr. Kevin Gilliland, for the team at Innovation 360


Are you suffering from Post-Traumatic Thanksgiving Disorder?

If by clicking on the blog you immediately began to relive the negative events that occurred on Thanksgiving Day, you may be experiencing early signs of Post-traumatic Thanksgiving Disorder.

You are experiencing completely normal and healthy post-thanksgiving responses if you meet the following criteria:

  • Exhaustion, from tirelessly hosting the event of thanksgiving
  • Excessive Napping, due to the levels of tryptophan in your turkey leftovers
  • Sadness, from your favorite thanksgiving team losing, despite the hope of the “greatest comeback season of all time” (Cowboy fans, this one is for you)
  • Anger, due to the grandma who grabbed the sold out Black Friday item out of your cart and escaped into the crowd

However, if you are experiencing the following post-thanksgiving responses, you meet criteria for Post-traumatic Thanksgiving Disorder:

  • Repeatedly Reliving the events of Thanksgiving in your thoughts, causing great distress
  • Avoiding family members phone calls and text messages, and creating “believable” reasons why you will not be able to attend Christmas this year
  • Difficulty showing affection to others
  • Difficulty sleeping due to ruminating thoughts about Thanksgiving

Other potential reactions specifically related to the holiday may be: Shock, anger, fatigue, nervousness, fear, and guilt. Some of you may now be asking, what do I do now that I think I might have PTTD? How do I get better? If re-enacting the following video does not help, read further.

A Thanksgiving Miracle – Saturday Night Live

If Adele didn’t solve your family issues, you have Post-traumatic Thanksgiving Disorder, or PTTD, more serious than most. PTTD involves a continual recovery process which helps you learn how to cope effectively. Treatment can lead to fewer and less intense responses. Individual and family therapy may be helpful for you and your loved ones to learn healthy communication patterns and solve chronic problems. With a little help, I believe you can soon have an enjoyable holiday that you won’t want to forget or avoid.

In all seriousness, I do believe that the holiday season often stirs up and bring to light the difficulties in our family relationships. There are ways to improve those relationships, and we can help in the process of change. But Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a serious condition that some people live with, which can lead to difficulties in relationships. Many survivors of a traumatic event do not develop PTSD, which is extremely hopeful.

However, you or your loved ones should seek licensed professional to help determine whether or not PTSD is a helpful and accurate diagnosis. For more information on how to clinically diagnose and/or treat PTSD contact us today!

– Austin Parsons



Who do I ask for help?

One time I ordered a gold Casio calculator wristwatch on eBay. I know, I know — I have incredible taste and a penchant for fine timepieces.

Unfortunately, the item arrived broken, as the wristband’s clasp was bent a wrong direction. This type of occasion usually makes me very grumpy — although I love e-commerce, I absolutely loathe returns.

Fortunately, a new client entered treatment that same week: a young man who suffered from a severe methamphetamine use disorder.

Now some folks are afraid of meth users. To me, they’re God’s gift to, well, broken gold Casio calculator wristwatches.

The following day, using three paperclips and the same number of minutes, my client corrected the clasp issue. He smiled big and handed me the item. (In no time, I was completing intricate calculations while dazzling my peers.)

About three weeks later, that same client was struggling, coming to grips with his recent life — one filled with binges, theft, heartbreak, and self-destruction. He wasn’t self-pitying; he was exploring reality with honesty and sincerity for the first time in a long time.

In one session he looked up from tears and said, “For several months now, no one has trusted me with anything. People hide stuff when I come over. They have every right not to trust me,” and then he paused.

“I want to thank you for letting me fix your watch.”

I didn’t know how to respond, mainly because I had no idea my repair request impacted this fellow in such a way.

In life, sometimes it’s hard to tell who to turn to. We wonder if that guy will be able to help, or if that friend will really listen. We question if she really cares or if he’s going to give us honest feedback.

In my experience with asking for help, the worst thing I do is deny someone an opportunity to assist or downplay if that request will have any benefit.

My encouragement is to give that person a try — for we don’t know how much he/she needs that chance.

by Jack Britton


Support for Parents

We often feel so isolated when our kids are struggling. It’s so easy to withdraw and not stay plugged in with other people who can help give us perspective. At i360, we encourage parents to be connected with other parents who have been there, and who are going through it, so you have that validation that you are not all alone in this. When you plug into Parent Support Group you realize you are not alone, you are not crazy, and there are other families struggling with the same things. And there is so much hope that comes with that.

When your son or daughter struggles with mood disorders, psychiatric illnesses, and/or substance abuse, it can be a very tough time for the whole family. During challenging times, healing can be found through connecting with others who share similar experiences.

Join us at Innovation360’s Parent Support Group each Monday night. Parent Support Group offers education, encouragement, and support. It’s a time when parents can hear others voice the same concerns about parenting teens or young adults who are struggling with chronic emotional struggles, substance abuse, and/or psychiatric illnesses.

When: Mondays from 7pm-8:30pm.

Where: 6600 LBJ FWY #240 in Dallas, Texas 75240

Contact: John Wilson at 214.733.9565

Topics may include:

  • Clearing communication lines
  • Reclaiming your life from fear and shame
  • Enjoying balanced family relationships
  • How to help a loved one who is struggling
  • Rediscovering intimacy
  • Learning to discern lack of ability vs. lack of willingness


For more information on parent advice, see our video below or click this link. We hope to see you soon at our Parent Support Group.


Are you too Emotionally Involved as a Parent?

If your child is anxious do you find yourself anxious too? Do you get wrapped up in trying fix it, experiencing the same emotion until their emotion changes?  And then move onto their next emotion? It’s a roller coaster ride that you don’t want to be on – nor does your child need you to be.

If you generally feel as if whatever happens to your child has happened to you, this could indicate enmeshment, an unhealthy emotional relationship. This often takes place when a parent is so empathetic that it turns into crossed personal boundaries that are permeable and unclear. One consequence of this is that it prohibits the child from maturing emotionally and becoming independent. What can be a good thing quickly becomes “too much of a good thing” and ends up being harmful.

When a child is experiencing a difficult emotion, they simply need support and a healthy dose of empathy.  If the parent takes on the emotion themselves and is overly involved, it can put the child in an obligatory position to extend comfort to the parent.  It can create an emotionally unsafe and unstable environment for the child.  And it will stunt their growth. Children need their parents as a resource for emotional stability and security.  If they feel responsible for their parents well being then they cannot become developmentally independent and responsible for their own choices.

Parenting requires a fine balance of being emotionally empathetic, yet not enmeshed.  This is not the only type of relationship in which enmeshment takes place. It can happen in any relationship: Romantic, friendships, etc. Sometimes it takes the lens of a third party to help identify where the enmeshment begins and ends.  Innovation360 frequently helps families identify areas of unhealthy relational habits such as enmeshment and guides them in transforming those relationships into healthy interactions. This leads to better dynamics and more rewarding relationships.

Reach out to us for more information on how we can come alongside your family to help you go down the path towards a more fulfilling, healthier life.

Written by Jennifer Updike, Advocate Coordinator at i360


What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Have you ever said to a loved one, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t keep drinking so much?” Or, “If you loved us, you would stop taking those pills like you do.”

When someone we love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it is very difficult to understand how they could keep doing the hurtful things they do. But oftentimes we don’t even realize that the challenging, unloving behavior is directly connected to addiction. We may be in a state of denial and unaware of the drug and/or alcohol use, so the hurtful behavior translates to “they must not love me”. When we do realize that our loved one acts very differently when using substances, we can’t help but think that surely if they loved us, they would stop. When they don’t,  even after promising to stop multiple times, we simply feel that we are unloved and it is extremely hurtful.

As a counselor, I worked with young children of alcoholics/addicts for many years. Children often expressed that their mom, dad or sibling must not love them because of the mean things they said or did. The Betty Ford Five Star Kids Program which i360 hosts helps the children learn that love doesn’t have anything to do with it. Addiction is a disease. And through this program, the children’s staff use a clever story to help get this point across.

“There is a mama bear living in the woods with her cubs. They are getting really hungry, so she goes out of their den to find food for them. As she looks for berries and other bear food, she sees something silver shining through some leaves on the ground. She has heard stories about the silver thing and was always told to stay away, but she is so curious. She approaches it and paws at it. Nothing happens. She paws at it again, and WHAM!! Giant, sharp teeth tear into her leg and the mama bear howls in pain! What was it? A bear trap! ‘Kids, when the mama bear got trapped, was she thinking about her cubs? NO! All she could think about was the pain and how to get out of it. But, did she still love her cubs? Of course she did! When your parents get trapped by addiction, they still love you very much, but they are totally focused on the trap and how to feel better and get away from it. When she finally yells HELP, someone comes to help her get free, but she has to ask for help first.”

The children seem to grasp this concept and feel relieved when they hear this story, along with all of the other wonderful education and support they receive in the program. The children leave the program with a reduction in the shame they’ve carried and an understanding that addiction is a disease, and most importantly,that it is not the child’s fault.

Innovation360 hosts this amazing program quarterly and any child between the ages of 7 and 12 who loves someone who drinks too much or takes drugs qualifies. It is non-profit, so scholarships are available if the $400.00 fee is unaffordable. You can reach the program by calling 972-753-0552 or by going to

The symptoms of addiction are lying, manipulating, denying, blaming, minimizing, projecting, etc. So, yes, it is very difficult not to take our loved one’s actions personally. The best thing family members can do is to get their own support and education about addiction. Innovation360 offers a parent support, counseling, Healing Starts at Home family program, and other services. These programs help reinforce the message that the addict or alcoholic cannot show consistent love when in the grasp of the disease. If they receive help and find recovery, it often becomes clear that they still love you as they learn to love themselves again.

Blog written by Pam Newton, M.S., LCDC – [email protected]



Tell me a Story…

Tell Me A Story: The importance of saying YES! to your gifts…

Most nights, my daughter’s bedtime routine involves me telling her a story.  Lauren has very specific rules: the characters have to be “make believe” (no one you could meet in real life); the story can’t be a re-iteration of one she has heard before (no re-telling of Snow White cast in modern day times, for example); all the characters have to have actual names; and the story has to have a crisis or conflict that then is resolved.  Story time with her is a true test of my creativity!  I cherish these times of closeness, where she is tuned in and focused on my voice.  We lie side by side in her bed with the lights already out, and she is caressing her soft stuffed cat that’s been her “lovie” since birth.  My daughter’s responses to the stories always amuse me.  She will point out what she believes to be a character’s bad decision or a good choice. She will correct me if I get the names wrong.  She gets most upset if the story doesn’t have any real dilemma, drama, or conflict.  If that is the case, she will demand that I start over and re-tell the story to include a problem.  She is vocal in telling me that a story without a problem is “boring” and to her, it just doesn’t make sense.

The construct of a story speaks to us and moves us in ways that other forms of communication do not.  Because stories told to us aloud engage all of our senses, memory and emotions, they have power like no other means to affect not just our intellect, but our hearts as well.  Narrative Therapy helps capture that same power of story telling in order to create lasting change within us.  Over the years of working with families in therapy, I have become so encouraged by hearing each family’s unique story of strength, growth and resiliency.  When reflecting on how the family’s story has developed, I find that the crisis that has encouraged the family to seek treatment is similar to the crisis or conflict that Lauren longs for me to include in the stories that I tell her.  Over the years, I began to see a pattern of how families endure stressful times, and even grow closer together through them by being able to “make up” the story as they go…to improvise.  In fact, flexibility is one of the most important attributes of families who are resilient.

Improvising, however, is not just haphazardly and frantically trying different things to see what works. Beneficial improvising actually has a structure that facilitates its effectiveness.  I have learned more about the principles of effective improvising as I’ve participated in a local Improv Comedy class.  “Saying yes to the gifts” is one of the features of effective improvising.  Seeing obstacles, difficulties, and problems as gifts to be received and understood is an empowering perspective.  The alternative is to view distressing events either negatively or with apathy, both of which are draining to our energy and ineffective in helping us cope.  Negativity or apathy keeps the story “stuck”; nothing different happens.  Worse yet, it can add to the distress already being experienced.  So through principles of improve therapy, we want to help families understand the “bigger picture” of their story and how the current crisis can be used as a gift to help direct the next chapter of the story to a place of growth, deeper involvement in life, greater engagement with one another, and more meaningful discoveries about themselves as individuals and about their purpose as a family.  This is no easy task as it means respecting and deeply empathize with the pain and distress they are feeling, while at the same time, opening their eyes to the possibility of a crisis as a gift.  The pain deserves respect, yet it doesn’t have to be in charge of what happens next.

Going through this process with one family I worked with led them to a deeper commitment to change.  The family had been struggling with multiple addictions, trauma, conflict, and poor boundaries. A series of events resulted in their 14 year old son violating probation, which resulted in him being court ordered to Residential Treatment.  As the mother struggled through her sadness, guilt, pain and thoughts of “I must be a horrible mother for this to have happened”, we explored how her son being away from home might be a gift.  I will never forget her enthusiasm as she experienced the shift in perspective right in front of me.  She suddenly sat up straight, raised her voice, and exclaimed, “Actually, him going away has been a gift because it helped me see how unhealthy our relationship was!  So in a weird way, even his getting into trouble was a gift for us as parents!”  Because she was able to view the story in this way, she became more committed to working through relationship and parenting issues with her husband while her son was away, and continued to be committed to healthier relationship boundaries and coping mechanisms when he returned home.

To respectfully identify the “gift” of struggle and pain, the following questions can be helpful:

1)     How could this experience bring our family closer together?  How has it already?

2)     How could this experience help us learn more about ourselves?  How has it already?

3)     What is our family’s identity and what values do we find important?  How do those values shape how we want to respond to this struggle?

4)     What strengths have we used in the past that have helped us face struggles?

5)     What unique strengths does our family possess that are required to face this struggle?

6)     How could this struggle help us in areas that we may need to grow?

7)     What is the gift our family brings to others (our extended family, neighborhood, community and the larger world)? And how can this struggle help us extend the gift to others?

8)     How do we want to define the meaning of this struggle for us?

When families decide together how they want to define the pain and how they want the next chapter of the story to go, the motivation and energy they can then generate is astounding!!  And just as Lauren finds it satisfying when the crisis is resolved in the story, I am so encouraged when families begin to generate their own solutions and begin to see themselves as struggling towards growth, rather than just struggling.  Being able to use creative interventions to help families see the story more clearly, even working with families in their home, where they are most comfortable, has been an exciting new frontier for me. I am honored and encouraged as I see families face amazing challenges and rise above them, as they write new stories of healing, hope and strength.

Written by Stephanie Coker, LCSW