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Grace Lost and Found
from addictions and compulsions to satisfaction and serenity
By MARY COOK
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2010 Mary Cook
All rights reserved.
Addictions, Compulsions, and Recovery
EVEN IF WE WERE BORN GENETICALLY predisposed to addiction and were chronically given drugs and traumatized in our childhood, we are still responsible for our adult lives today and for our recovery. Acting out, hostile dependency, rebellion, and vindictiveness serve only to keep us bound to an unhealthy past and to people who harmed us. Typically, we direct aggression toward those whom we see as responsible for our harm, toward ourselves, and toward anyone who at least unconsciously reminds us of our pain and conflicts, including our children.
Wherever our negative feelings or actions are aimed, recovery urges us to redirect this energy toward resolution. Maintaining negativity toward ourselves deepens our wounds. Maintaining negativity toward others reinforces attachments to problematic behaviors and attitudes. Needing or wanting others to change so that we can heal keeps us stuck in unfulfilled childhood dependency. All of these scenarios recreate familiar pain and problems and we feel increasingly less capable and confident in our lives.
The Solution Is Up to Us
Not one of the twelve steps tells us to seek amends from others. Recovery relies only on our changing to more mature behavior. Inherent in addiction is avoidance of appropriate responsibility. We court illusions of power through picking up weapons, rather than weeping for lost innocence and protection. We hide pain through altering perceptions of internal and external reality, rendering us helpless to find solutions. We create false selves from defensive adaptations to dysfunction, and then wonder why we feel so alone and empty. Our relationships reflect impoverishment and degradation. We are dishonest, disloyal, diseased, and devoid of true love and wisdom. We sit on a massive mountain of wreckage waiting for a short dose of counterfeit paradise from a bottle, needle, or pipe. We are in no position to hold others accountable at this stage. We must desperately desire recovery with the same passion with which we pursued drugs.
The 12 steps are designed to help us recognize our unhealthy patterns and from whom and from what experiences they originate. Exploring our early lives in the fourth step yields the most valuable information in this regard. We may learn that our destructiveness to ourselves or others is a response to unhealed abuse or trauma in childhood. Perhaps we married someone who seems cold, critical, and distant like our fathers were. Codependency and controlling behaviors may stem from being over-responsible for an addict parent. Deprivation of important psychological needs may have resulted in compulsive stealing. Childhood sexual molestation can trigger later prostitution. Unhealthy family enmeshment may translate into fear of relationships. Whatever problems we suffered in childhood, they were not due to our being impossibly challenging children, nor because we deserved the treatment we received. It is our responsibility, however, to transform dysfunction into new healthy thinking, feeling, and behavior.
Dysfunction comes from the giving and receiving of unhealed wounds by imperfect people. Recovery comes from creating a loving and understanding relationship with ourselves, which is modeled on our perception of how God relates to us. The aim of examining early problems is to correct our response to them today. We encourage ourselves to own the full depth and range of feelings that were triggered by the harm we recall. We respond with attention, compassion, comfort, and containment. Containment means feelings can be experienced, expressed, and explored without acting out, condemning, judging, or losing control. Emotional healing emerges from repeated sharing of painful experiences with the accompanying feelings, until anger, anxiety, and fear are greatly diminished.
We examine how childhood problems influenced our thinking in order to identify and begin detaching from false beliefs that perpetuate negativity. Our minds absorb everything in childhood, and these experiences and our reactions to them create the first and most powerful framework from which we understand life. We need to change our identities and life beliefs so that they no longer reflect defensive reactions to pain and problems, but rather incorporate spirituality and recovery tools for healing and growth. We can practice a more positive relationship with ourselves by treating ourselves with affection, consideration, respect, and sensitivity. When confronting ourselves, we focus on learning and solutions, rather than harsh judging. We incorporate discipline and structure that promotes the achievement of healthy goals. We detach from people, places, and experiences that are toxic to us, and set boundaries and limits that help us maintain recovery as our first priority. Through daily prayer and meditation, we seek God's guidance and support toward spiritual wellness. Whatever we have suffered, our solution lies in appreciating the gift of life by refraining from destructiveness and making positive use of our God-given talents and interests.
Personal Growth Questions
1. In what ways do I express negativity toward myself and others?
2. What part of myself and my current life reflects childhood pain and problems?
3. What must I change in myself to resolve early and current conflicts?
I am capable and willing to learn and demonstrate positive productive behavior.
I practice loving and understanding myself today.
Habit-Formed Thoughts and Feelings
Dominant thoughts and feelings experienced in childhood and in active addiction tend to recur even when the elements that prompted them are no longer present. If, for example, I was abused as a child and my dominant feeling was fear, I will experience fear despite the safety of my current adult environment. If I was abandoned in childhood, felt a deep sense of loss, and believed that I was unlovable, these will be my issues in adulthood. If stimulant drug use brought feelings of intense nervous energy, which I directed to excessive activity, I will continue to experience this in sobriety. If my dominant feelings when withdrawing from stimulants were depression, despair, and lethargy, then I will also have these feelings in sobriety.
When we experience feelings and thoughts that are out of sync with current situations, we tend to create circumstances that justify them. So we focus on who or what we can't trust to explain our fears. In relationships, we magnify behaviors that we view as signs of withdrawal, which reinforces our belief that we are not loved sufficiently. We obsess on what needs to be done and compulsively busy ourselves in frenetic activity when we have nervous energy. We dwell on our shameful pasts and overwhelm ourselves with impossible visions of what we must do in order to recover. And this drains our energy and explains our feelings of hopelessness.
Making decisions and acting from habitual patterns ensures that our lives remain predictably sick. And risking the least amount of change in recovery increases vulnerability to relapse. Our thoughts and feelings have more power to affect our behavior than external circumstances. Thus it's vital that we pay attention to them and consciously decide which ones to empower, which ones to explore, and which ones to relinquish. When our thoughts and feelings harm more than they help, when they intrude more than they support, or abuse and control more than they teach and guide, we are not free to create the lives we so deeply desire and deserve.
Our minds present a chaotic mass of mixed messages, all fighting for control over our decisions and actions. The disease disguises itself to talk to us in a multitude of ways, as do our character defects until we surrender them. Aggression, arrogance, defensiveness, drama, fear, judgment, prejudice, pride, and shame typically have strong voices in our heads. Just as in experiencing cravings to use drugs we must interrupt our thinking long enough to view the ultimate consequence, we must do the same when listening to other sick messages in our minds. Aggression spreads woundedness like wildfire. Arrogance halts learning and growth. Defenses prevent us from healing and invite further attack. Drama substitutes a hell of a soap opera for a life. Fear removes faith. Judgment binds us to whatever we judge. Prejudice and pride turn our character defects into dictators. Shame supports inferiority and punishment rather than amended behavior and relationships.
We can't afford to empower our minds in recovery. This is one reason why fellowship, following direction, sponsorship, step work, prayer, and meditation are stressed in the program. Clarity, peace, and wisdom will come as we cleanse ourselves of old mental patterns. Relaxation and meditation techniques are the most important tools to interrupt our normal mental process. As thoughts fade away, we tune in to a deeper part of ourselves. Here, there is nothing to control, no effort to expend, and no conditions on caring. Full absorption in the present moment allows us to detach from all that pulls us away from our spiritual origins. In the light of serenity, our habitual thoughts and feelings seem infantile. Yet we see with the eyes of compassion, not judgment. We allow ourselves to surrender, on a daily basis, that which we have outgrown.
When we cease listening to our minds' chatter, stop seeking fulfillment outside of ourselves, and surrender defenses and offenses, we discover that everything in our lives is here to teach us. We then see that our strength lies in love and service. When we give up our small wills that cling to crumbs of comfort, in exchange for our Higher Power's will which provides eternal abundance, we are given our greatest gift. The enormity of change that is required for quality recovery cannot be achieved through human power alone. It is our consistent conscious contact with our Higher Power that allows us to trade habit-formed thoughts and feelings for a greater truth that sets us free.
Personal Growth Questions
1. What are my negative habitual thoughts and feelings from the past?
2. What conflicts occur as a result of them?
3 What positive thoughts and feelings could replace them?
I consciously choose healthy role models today.
I practice quieting my mind and feeling the peaceful presence of my Higher Power.
Most 12-step programs advise us to speak from personal experience and feelings as opposed to opinions, philosophy, and generalities. We are told to tell our truth and let others tell theirs. "Live and let live" allows us to respect autonomy and accept differences. Thus, we do not force our beliefs onto others or assume that everything stated in a meeting applies to us.
We are educated about self-talk and learn to distinguish between the addict and the recovery parts of our dialogue. We learn effective intervention techniques that increasingly disempower our old sick thinking. We also practice compassionate confrontation and supportive statements to strengthen our recoveries. The more we are consciously aware of our internal dialogues, the quicker we are to identify and prevent or halt disguised relapse behaviors.
The formula to share "experience, strength, and hope" and the focus on helping newcomers enables us to identify and develop recovery tools. It shifts our thinking of ourselves as having either nothing or only bad inside, to seeing how we have something good enough to pass on to others. As we help others, we reinforce our own recoveries. We are told that the program works on attraction, not promotion, so we know we must be good examples.
Writing gratitude lists and not giving up before the miracle arrives helps us to develop a broader, more hopeful, positive attitude. The disease wants us to think, talk, and act negatively, and to believe that drugs alone will save us from this misery. Expressing thanks to others allows us to experience bonding with trust and reciprocity. Appreciating what we do have and valuing character strengths further increases the distance between us and the disease.
If our focus was taking from others in our disease, then it's important to practice appropriate giving in recovery. Instead of statements aimed at manipulating another, we let others know what we appreciate in them. We practice active listening and make commitments to be of service. If we were used and abused in our disease, we need to learn healthy boundaries and state what we will and will not accept today. In this case, we ask ourselves if helping another would either enable them or distract us from our own responsibilities and recovery needs. If that is the case, we practice saying "no."
We are asked to identify and take responsibility for our part in conflicts with others. We are told to use our recovery principles rather than focus on whether others are doing so. We are encouraged to state our feelings when someone upsets, angers, or hurts us, and to take responsibility for our healthy solution, since we are powerless over others. In contrast, when we focus on others' character defects and how we want them to change, they become our solution and we become victims. This dependency causes more anger, pain, frustration, and depression.
We also learn that communication is not just the content of words. The process part of communication includes attitude, body language, feeling, inflection, timing, and tone. These things significantly alter the meaning and credibility of the words. When there's disparity between the words and the process, the process is what is received and valued. We can easily disguise or deny our reality with words. It's considerably more difficult to do so with the elements of the process. Paying conscious attention to this intrinsic part of communication gives us additional tools for deeper personal and interpersonal awareness.
Completing a fourth and fifth step gives us valuable information for identifying triggers to emotional pain. We are hypersensitive and hyper-responsive to experiences and interactions that remind us of unhealed past wounds. An overly strong reaction to a current situation indicates a need to explore earlier conflicts and their consequences. When we work through feelings regarding early-life traumas, we can appreciate the differences between the current and previous experiences. The unmanageable crisis of today becomes manageable when we realize we are not helpless, dependent children, but adults with solutions and resources as large as the fellowship and as powerful as the program's spiritual principles.
Taking responsibility for our recovery from trauma means that we identify and work to change false beliefs internalized from those who harmed us. It also means that we change behaviors that resulted from our adaptive responses to unhealthy situations. Our healing does not require assistance from those who mistreated us. It does require us to identify communication to ourselves and others that originates from trauma. This is similar to differentiating the addict and recovery parts of our minds. When we hear statements reflecting what we learned from a sick environment, we intervene with affirmative, solution-oriented dialogue.
Our beliefs form the basis for our behavior and determine how we talk to ourselves and others. Recovery allows us the opportunity to transform sickness into health in every area of life. Practicing commendable communication is an important piece of this journey.
Personal Growth Questions
1. What is the importance of autonomy for myself and others?
2. What are the differences between the sick parts and the healthy parts of my inner dialogue?
3. What are specific examples of how recovery changes my communication?
I communicate honestly and respectfully and take healthy responsibility for myself today.
I am a person of integrity because my words match my feelings, beliefs, and actions.
What's the Inside Got to Do with the Outside?
Externalizing is a defense that is overused in addictions and compulsions. It means that, when we feel something painful internally, we look for an outside fix or focus. Sex, drugs, food, shopping, and gambling are common examples of fixes. They offer the temporary illusion of love, protection, pleasure, power, and excitement, and they dull or numb the conscious awareness of pain and stress. Additionally, when we are uncomfortable with self-examination and with acknowledging our own feelings, we frequently create external conditions that mirror our internal battles.
We may be very angry with ourselves and initiate arguments with others. This allows us to focus on other people rather than on our own conflicts. We may feel chaotic, disorganized, and messy inwardly, and attract people and situations into our lives that reflect the same confusion. This lets us deny or minimize our own inner states and imagine that our problems are external. We can obsess over someone else's messiness. When we struggle between our will and our higher purpose, or between supporting or sabotaging ourselves, this conflict can manifest in external people and situations. We then focus on the outside disagreement as the source of our confusion. If we have a fear of airplanes and, on our next flight, we sit next to someone with a greater fear of flying, we may well find ourselves comforting and reassuring this person. If we're having a day full of pain and depression and we reach out to help others, our own discomfort seems to diminish or disappear entirely.
Excerpted from Grace Lost and Found by MARY COOK. Copyright © 2010 Mary Cook. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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