I have been very busy recently filming my online course (Building Recovery) and finishing my book (of the same name). So I was wanting to get back to writing my Blog and thought to myself “what are the core principles that inform all my work with clients who want to recover from addictive lifestyles”? So I wrote down everything that informed my work, basically things that I would not contradict or stray from in any situation.
This could be valuable to you in your striving for recovery for two reasons. Firstly because I believe these principles are valuable for everybody, not just for addicted people. This is because, like all the rest of my teaching are about personal growth. Secondly because they will provide an overview of how I have learned to approach this work. So reading about them will help you to understand the coherence in this approach. How it all fits together as a useful whole. This will help you to understand why I sometimes suggest certain things that might not be obvious to you.
So these are the principles my recovery building stands on. If you include these principles in your recovery they will provide you with the best foundation and serve you well.
The Core Principles
So what are the core principles? What is it that I could not do without in this work? You will notice a theme in the following list. It is a theme that speaks to my beliefs and experience over the last thirty years.
The only way authentic recovery is to outgrow your problems
My belief is that you cannot recover by improving yourself in the place you are in. You must outgrow your difficulties. You must be lifted higher. Psalm 40 says “I cried out to you in my distress and you inclined you ear to me. You lifted me out of the miry clay and placed my feet upon a rock”. Here is a list of things that will be part of this series.
1 – Harmony
No I’m not offering singing lessons! Although the way music works in creating a beautiful chord through different harmonising notes is a great start. So the actual principle here is something like ‘stay on your good side’. So this is about inner harmony not outer harmony (often confused). The reason it makes it onto my list of core principles is because we simply cannot move (grow) whilst we are in disharmony.
2 – Isolation
Yes I know, we always knew that isolation was bad! The point here is that all the most recent research is showing us that it’s even worse than we thought. So the principle here is something like ‘develop relationships with living things (people preferably)’. Coming out from isolation (inside) is one of the most challenging things we can do and so it needs preparation and a deep level of acceptance that tings like this are journeys ‘aims’ rather than quick fixes.
3 – Growth
When we are threatened one of the most common aspects of our survival strategies is to stop growing. To avoid challenges and to ‘shut down’. Addiction becomes one of the ways we can do this and develop a ‘Groundhog day’ type of life. It makes sense then to see recovery as a reversal of this process. So the principle here is something like ‘have the right aims’. So often addicted people start with the latest problem such as “I have no money” or “I need to stop taking drugs”. These are usually ‘post addiction problems’ when we should be concentrating on the ‘pre addiction issues’.
4 – Self management
My work in this field took a huge leap forwards when I took on board the complex nature of being a human being! I often remind my clients that when we say ‘I’ we are using a complex statement! So the core principle here is something like ‘you are always working with what is between your ears’! To start using our daily experiences and challenges to grow into our recovery we need to understand what is happening during difficult moments and the relationship between our brain and our mind.
So there it is. Take the time now to study the episodes in this series. Starting with number one HARMONY.
Let’s start with a definition before we go on to talk about why it’s such an indispensable part of authentic recovery. Harmony is defined as ‘the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect’. Cambridge Dictionary.
It’s this idea of difference in the sounds that is so important. Notice that harmony is not lot’s of same sounding notes. A bunch of ‘E’ notes may make a nice sound bit they do not make a chord.
If you have been thinking of yourself in the most obvious and simple way then your behaviour and thoughts will often make you feel crazy! Every time you contradict yourself in your behaviour speech or attitude you will be wondering “how crazy am I, I mustn’t let anyone know”. Let me reassure you. Contradictory behaviour does not mean that you are crazy! It’s a matter of understanding how complex you are.
I would say that ‘I’ is shorthand. Short and convenient for everyday life. “I did this” “I want that” makes sense. But this is not sufficient for a rich understanding of what it means to be human. In order to manage yourself well and grow into a full recovery you must start to take into account the fact that you are a complex package of different, sometimes contradictory ideas or ‘parts’. Did you ever say “I’m in two minds about that”. Or “there’s a part of me that just won’t let go”. These are examples of this complexity. You are going to learn how to first take this complexity into account and then use it in your recovery journey.
A great team creates a great harmony. Look at this picture. Imagine if they all turned up and wanted to paint the boards. Nothing would be achieved. Of course they all have the same ‘big picture’ but it is the harmony created when all the different skills are used to achieve an agreed upon goal that makes them a great team.
I want to talk about what happens when you think too simply about yourself. You have an aim in your mind, which is to stop drinking let’s say. So far so good. At some point other thoughts turn up. Thoughts that say ‘why bother. No one will appreciate it’. or ‘No one will know if you drink on your own’. You can add some of your own. The point is these thoughts are not in agreement with your intention to stop drinking. Did you ever ask yourself why would such thoughts exist? If you have decided to do something why would you not be completely behind this decision?
Internal opposition to our own decisions in the form of temptation and compulsion, fear and selfish need are so common in our experience that we stop questioning the reason for these opposing ideas or think about why they exist. Often our reaction to these voices is to fight them.You feel a pressure to appear ‘normal’ and so try to bully or hide these things so as not to appear strange or abnormal.
One more reason we avoid doing something about this state of affairs is that we are much more focused on what can be seen than what is hidden from view. Trust me on this one little thing, it is the things that are hidden from view that are the most important and that will offer the most potential for growth and change.
In the fourth episode in this series (self management) I will go into more detail about the nature of these ‘voices of influence’ but for now let’s stay with this theme of creating harmony through removing conflict. When we take the ‘fighting’ option we are led into conflict, but it’s okay because it’s conflict for a good reason, right? There are so many articles and books about how to win and how to be strong and how to fight that you may think of it as an obvious thing to do. So you try to banish the negative thoughts or to aggressively replace them with ‘positive affirmations’.
Sound like you? Let me ask you something, did it work? The fact that you are reading this is pretty good evidence that it didn’t. Let me tell you something. If you want these inner negative voices to get stronger, keep exercising them. It’s your resistance to them that is making them stronger. You need to harmonise not argue.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing your relationship with yourself with your relationship with others. These books are mainly talking about our relationships with others not ourselves. It may seem obvious to you that the same approach will work for the relationship with your self. It won’t. You see I fully agree that conflict and it’s resolution is the key to personal growth (in our relationships with others). Please click this link for my take on this. But your relationship with yourself needs a different approach.
So in relationships with other people difficulties are good. The problem is that things are very different on the inside. When it comes to yourself conflict is not the way forwards. I always remind my clients that “Your mind runs your life…. on licence from your brain”. So when you are dealing with any ‘part’ of you are dealing with a child. But a child that is much stronger than you! Overpowering it is not an option! Remember your brain can shut down your mind but your mind cannot shut down your brain!
Acceptance – the key to growth
I want to talk about a word now that has got an increasingly bad press lately. Acceptance. You know acceptance is a fantastic thing! It is the key to personal growth and development, improved relationships and greater effectiveness. But it has become known as a bad thing. Somehow we have managed to turn one of the most valuable things in our resources into an unclean unwanted thing. It is now thought of as something akin to a doormat. “I suppose I’ll just have to accept it” is nothing more than a sad sounding capitulation to our modern ears.
I want you to know that acceptance is one of the most valuable materials you can build your recovery with. Let me tell you why it is so valuable by telling you what acceptance isn’t! Acceptance isn’t agreement. When we accept something we are not saying we agree with it. We are not saying it is correct. Or that it’s permanent. Not that we don’t want to or can’t do anything about it. We are simply saying that it’s real.
You should accept something because it’s real.
The power of acceptance is felt once we have accepted something. You don’t overpower it, you don’t destroy it. You don’t disprove it. And yet, somehow you get past it!
Acceptance versus knowledge
If you have viewed my post on this subject you will have more detail by now but I still want to say something about the difference between just knowing something and truly accepting it. Knowledge is a concrete thing. It can be a block to change in it’s brutal presence. we can hate something that we know is true but we can’t change it! Acceptance is much deeper than knowledge. It is a spiritual thing not a scientific thing. When we know something we cannot change it, when we accept something we transcend it! The alcoholic who ‘knows’ he is alcoholic carries on drinking. The alcoholic who ‘accepts’ he is alcoholic stops drinking. You will see very different behaviour resulting from acceptance than from knowledge.
When I run my workshops I show an image of two men wrestling. I ask the participants to tell me what is happening. They tell me that there are two men wrestling, not surprising right? I tell them to look again and see two men who are stuck together. Neither man can leave, move, or grow whilst they are still wrestling! Again this is not about agreement or being stuck with something. It is about being free of something!
I want you to start practising acceptance as a way of life. Try saying to yourself “just for right now, this is how I feel” and “just for today, this is what is happening”. Try “I accept that I just thought that” and “I accept that a part of me does not want to stop”. Look for changes in your behaviour and different reactions to situations as you develop this acceptance habit. Remember you are not trying to change your behaviour, that just gets you back to fighting. Changed behaviour is evidence of a changed relationship with yourself.
What would your last words be?
If you had one chance to say something valuable to those you love. Only one chance to leave a thought with them that would be the last word, the last opportunity to offer advice. What would it be? What is the most important thing you could say to someone? If there was one last chance.
This was the position Jesus was in on the night he was to be crucified. His words to us are found in John 17. He first prays for himself and then following prayers for his disciples he prays for you and me! Yes, all that will follow, that’s us! So what is this last prayer. What is it that Jesus himself knows to be the most important thing he can leave us with. The most important thing to pray for. Is it that we should build great big churches? That we should convert millions? Or it that we should raise large sums of money? It is none of these things. It is harmony. Harmony is his prayer for us.
Now I have heard this harmony preached and taught as harmony between us as people but this is not what is meant. Listen to Jesus words as he describes the harmony or unity he is talking about “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. He is talking about internal harmony. He is talking about our relationship with ourselves. Let me give you one more example.
In Mark 3:25 Jesus says 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Again this is often taken to mean the Church or our relationship with others which of course is important but listen what He says in the next verse. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. Clearly placing his words in the context of personal harmony and unity.
Whether you are a Christian or not, these words are a powerful reminder of the importance of personal harmony.
Be a good friend to yourself
One last word on internal harmony. Be a good friend to yourself. I know what it’s like to hate yourself. When I first got clean I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror to get a decent shave. To create inner harmony you have to be a good friend to yourself. You will not be effective in anything you try to do as long as you are not helping yourself. No matter what you have done or said. No matter how wrong it was. Accept it. I am not suggesting that you not be responsible for yourself I am suggesting that you take the best stance to grow out of it.
Here is a simple method you can try to get around self hatred. Imagine a family member or best friend telling you their problems. Except they are telling you your story, exactly the same as your experience. What is your advice for them? What would you say? Now act on that advice yourself, no matter how difficult or awkward it seems. You have just tricked yourself into giving you your best advice!
I will be doing three more episodes on this subject of core principles. Speak soon