Art reflecting Life

Art reflecting Life

Addiction and reverse addiction in film

It always amazes me when I see art reflecting the deeper things in life, particularly in film. Patterns and themes that can often take therapists years to learn and recognise are often portrayed by artists with no training or apparent expertise. These themes and traits are often included in their work primarily as observations from the life of the artist themselves and are all the stronger for that. In this post I am going to take a look at the main theme of my work, which is the family pattern of addiction and reverse addiction. And the way I see this reflected in storylines of Films and TV series. Particularly in the way people caught in this pattern, attract each other, live with each other, affect each other and frustrate each other.

Addiction and reverse addiction as relationship patterns

Years before my own recovery, it was obvious to me that certain people would react to me more favourably than others. Whilst some would clearly be affected by some form of empathy around my ‘problems’, others would be unaffected (I thought they were cold) and would say I had a ‘chip on my shoulder’. I also noticed a tendency to ‘flip’ or change my personality depending on who I was with. When I was with someone who was very giving and generous, I would tend to take advantage, whilst also developing a state of hoplessness. On the other hand, when with people who acted more selfishly, I noticed a tendency to feel responsible for their welfare, even down to shopping, cooking and cleaning

 Although I did not understand it yet, and was still some years away from my own recovery, I was experiencing part of the pattern of addiction and reverse addiction. Years later, after I had recovered from my own addiction, I studied and became a therapist. This led me to an understanding of narcissistic tendency and co-dependence as medical terms. However, being trained as a systemic therapist, I did not see these things as conditions. Instead, I learned to use communication theory as a way of recognising patterns and themes around the way people engage in relationships.

Moving away from simple medical diagnosis

 Using my own experience as well as my training, I learned to see issues as things co-created in relationships, rather than immutable personal traits or conditions. In other words, that the way we are is, at least partly, contingent on who we are with. It is from this perspective that we can relate the positions of addiction and reverse addiction more closely together. As opposed to unrelated ‘conditions’ such as addiction and codependency. 

As I started to develop these ideas in my practice and rehabs I worked in, I started to notice a great deal of consistency in the way people were attracted or repelled by each other. So this started to make sense to me based upon their history and tendency. For instance, an addict that had been extreme in their behaviour will tend to attract an extreme reverse addict. Whilst a more high functioning addict who has no history of drifting into chaos, will tend to attract someone with a milder form of reverse tendency. In other words, there is a form of unhealthy balance here which is unconscious but extremely consistent.

My main aim in this post is to look at the examples of this pattern in film and TV. There are many examples so I will restrict myself to three, one film, one TV series and one book. Finally I will look at the greatest example the world has been given, which is the story of the Prodigal from Luke 15 in the Bible. The purpose of introducing these ideas through mainstream media projects is to help you to see the patterns more clearly for yourself, and to use this understanding in your own recovery. There is no better way to gain a better understanding of something than to see it as part of a story. Let’s first look at a very current series Happy Valley, with the amazing Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran.

The purpose of introducing these ideas through mainstream media projects is to help you to see the patterns more clearly for yourself

Happy Valley

The pattern of addiction and reverse addiction is strongly present in the BBC series Happy Valley. There have been two seasons already produced with a third due to be aired on January the 1st. In the story Catherine Cawood (played by Sarah Lancashire) is a Police Sergeant in a small Yorkshire Town. Her Sister Clare (played by Siobhan Finneran), lives with her along with her grandson Ryan (played by Rhys Connah). 

Initially not much is made of Clare’s addiction, it’s only later in the series (series two, episode two) that the complexity of the sisters relationship is exposed through the vulnerability of Clare when she is left at a funeral by Catherine for several hours. She gets drunk with the daughter of the deceased Anne Gallagher (played by Charlie Murphy) who is also alcoholic. This begins yet another chaotic night

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Components of the theme

There are many recognisable components of the above mentioned theme present in this series. Notice that when Clare gets drunk, it is when she is left for five hours at a funeral because Catherine is so busy trying to meet many other obligations. This weight of responsibility for others, felt by the ‘reverse tendency’ is a strong component of the theme and one of the main ways that reverse addicts become burned out. There often seems to be no defence for the reverse addict against the consistent needs/demands of the addict., and the continual pressure of meeting others needs.

Familial construction

This pattern is primarily seen inside a family and we always remember that Catherine and Clares attitudes were both born out of the same family, the same parents, the same upbringing. Any dysfunction in the family tends to pressurise the children into one or other of these extreme patterns. The interesting thing is why do people in the same family tend to go in apparently opposite directions? Whilst Clare became a heroin addict and did not manage to make any progress in her career, Catherine grew up with the huge burden of responsibility for others. This led to a career in the Police force and an unhealthy pressure of responsibility to be looking after others. 

In the series Catherine is holding down a difficult Police Seargents role in a small Yorkshire Town. Underfunded and unsupported from upstream, she has chosen to step back from her detectives role in order to look after her Grandson. Left when her daughter commited suicide. She is also housing her sister Clare who is volunteering locally but not yet secure in her recovery. You might ask, “who made Catherine responsible for everyone else”? What makes Clare sometimes give up on everything and return to the drugs whilst her sister cannot leave her post? It is this bifurcation along family lines that is not natural, they were not born this way. It is the effect of dysfunction in the family.

Relationship construction

How we build relationships, and who we build them with, form another strong theme. Addicts and reverse addicts are like magnets, forming very strong attractions and repulsions. Because of the subconscious nature of this attraction, the unhealthy aspects of the bond are often not apparent until much later. If you ask someone who struggles with these things why they do what they do, they will often answer vaguely or with a somewhat glib reply. Those of you who have watched the series will see this in Catherines responses. The moral sense that they are supposed to do something is a force that is present in the brain more than the mind and, as such, is not easy to get to grips with. The good news is that the brain can be rewired.

It’s also important to review how you think about yourself. If your thinking is built on ideas like “I’m like this” or “I’m too much like that”, then there isn’t much you can do. However, if you can start to think of relationships as the way of understanding yourself, then you are opening up all kinds of possibilities for growth and development. Think about who you are in this, or that relationship, and why. It’s very noticable in this series that Catherine is very different depending on who she is with.

The moral sense that they are supposed to do something is a force that is present in the brain more than the mind and, as such, is not easy to get to grips with.

Intensity explosions

Explosions often become inevitable in the intensity of such unhealthy, unbalanced relationships such as the Sisters in this series. What the reverse addict sees as caring, helpful and necessary, the addict eventually experiences as restricting, smothering and controlling. Notice in the drinking scene how Clare is desperate for Catherine to “leave her alone”. This pattern or theme naturally strangulates over time to become an unbearable tension for both. The more the reverse addict notices the addict’s problems, the more they act to help. The more the addict perceives the help as controlling, the more they attempt to be free of it, and so on.


Flipping as a relational phenomenon

Following the intensity of the explosion in the relationship, the typical way Catherine and Clare relate is itself reversed, in other words they can ‘flip’ or swap positions. It is part of the pressure of the unhealthy balance. So, following the explosion we would tend to see reflection on behaviour. The addict might be concerned about the extent of their selfishness, the reverse addict eventually cracks under the pressure of meeting everyone else’s needs. Flipping then, is something that happens not only within an intense relationship but also, as a natural consequence of who we engage with.


Only when I laugh

In the 1981 film “only when I laugh” adapted from the play of the same name by Neil Simon, Georgia Heinz (played by Marsha Mason) is recovering from alcoholism. The story covers Georgia’s return from rehab and her attempts to return to her acting career. There are many great observations in this piece and several themes are present.

Notice in this clip from the movie, how the friend and the daughter go from lively animated chatter to a kind of limp lifeless silence once Georgia has left the room.

It was fascinating to me that in her interview with Bobbie Wygant Marsha confirms that she did not have alcoholism in the family, but had seen people who did not realise that they were embarrassing themselves with alcohol. Neil Simon grew up during the great depression and was said to have had a volatile upbringing with the family splitting up several times, but alcohol l was not the problem. So, again, they were derived from observation and human understanding.

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Far from the madding crowd

I can’t finish this brief look at these patterns and themes without a mention of Mark Clark. A character most of us can recognise in our lives. In Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the madding crowd, he introduces the character briefly. 

“True, true; it can’t be gainsaid!” observed a brisk young man–Mark Clark by name, a genial and pleasant gentleman, whom to meet anywhere in your travels was to know, to know was to drink with, and to drink with was, unfortunately, to pay for.

In Hardy’s novel this character is portrayed as somewhat more universal, as if he would have the same effect on everyone. And there are some that appear to have this effect, but most people have different effects on different people. 

The Prodigal.

The greatest example of this family pattern comes from the Bible and is found in the Gospel of Luke. In Chapter fifteen we read the story of the Prodigal Son. Possibly the most famous story in the Bible. Along with Noah and the flood, Adam and Eve in the garden, the Prodigal is so well known that people of all faiths and no faith are familiar with it.

Of course the typical way this story is taught and understood is in the context of the Fathers love for his sons, and this is clearly the main idea, but there is another underlying theme here and it is so important that when I am teaching counsellors and Church leaders about how to help people in their recoveries, I say that everything we need to know about addiction, rock bottoms and recovery is in this story! It’s all there if we dig a little deeper.

So we see all the usual suspects in this tale. Isolation, selfishness, poor decisions, chaotic behaviour and wild living. Rock bottoms and repentance. Acceptance and reconciliation. But wait! There is also another theme emerging right at the end! Look at the way the older son is so angry at the reconciliation that he refuses to go into the house. The Father goes out to him but he will not be comforted. This issue is so serious that we do not even see the resolution of it in the story. 

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Learning from our greatest teacher

Well, what is the older brother’s complaint? What is the problem? Shouldn’t he be happy that his younger Brother is back in the family? Well, if all his work, contributions and commitment were genuine, he would be. But his issue is exposed right at the end of the story when he cannot contain his resentment. He did not get the outcome all his efforts were aimed at. So here it is again. Two siblings from the same family, with the same Father, the same environment and the same history. And yet they grow up in completely opposite ways! One trys to gain acceptance and success by following all the apparent rules and meeting everyones expectations. Whilst the other escapes into selfishness and thinks only about what he can get! Looking at this story again through this apparently ‘modern’ lens is fascinating. It shows us that this family pattern has been around forever and will continue to emerge wherever families are formed. 

I really hope that this brief journey into art and the way it has reflected life has given you some food for thought, Especially if this is a subject you are struggling with yourself. Our aim in recovery is to improve all our relationships. With everything, and everybody! This means achieving a balanced position in relation to our boundaries with others. This can be very difficult and take time, so be patient with yourself. Take another look at this post for guidance on balance and what it looks like.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this. All the best with your progress.

The observer position

The observer position

The ‘observer’ position 

I want to say something more about one of the key points in this approach. In order to understand, develop and practice my method you must first develop your understanding of what I call the ‘observer position’. Things like a raised awareness of your parts and what triggers them. How and when they were constructed. As well as being able to communicate with them in a way that is ‘age appropriate’ are all things that depend on a good understanding and working knowledge of this ‘observer’ position.  

Did you ever say to yourself “why am I doing this” as you began yet another disastrous course of action? Somehow able to see how bad this is going to be and yet seemingly unable to stop yourself? If you have always thought of yourself as one thing doesn’t this double view seem strange? Who was talking to who at these moments? These questions are very difficult to answer from a traditional perspective. Actually, what you were doing was likely to be ‘observing’ yourself in a triggered moment. So what do we mean by this? And how can it help us to develop our recovery?

Defining the observer – your ‘core’ self 

The first thing to make sure of is that you have an idea of what this ‘real’ or ‘core self’ is. Who is it that is doing the observing? The first challenging idea to get hold of is that everyone, no matter how damaged, abused, has a core or real self. No matter how much of a checkered past you have, there is a core part of you that is unaffected by circumstance. That does not carry the flaws that you may have identified yourself with. If this is the first time you have read about these ideas then this will probably come as a shock to you so just take a minute to digest this. It means that every time you said something to yourself like “I’m such a liar” or “I’m a hopeless addict” or “I’m a waste of time” you were actually talking about a part of you, not the real you. 

The filter 

Your ‘core’ or ‘real’ self is your consciousness, your mind. Because it’s the part of you that makes sense of everything, you could think of it as the filter through which everything must pass. A translating point that makes meaning from everything you experience. You are doing it now as you read this. It is your consciousness in an un-triggered state. I want to promise you that if you could find a way to maintain this state even through difficult moments, you would never drink, use drugs or act out addictively again. Just allow yourself to imagine this now, remaining in your core state and making good decisions, improving relationships, and making progress in your chosen field. Unlike traditional forms of treatment that diagnose you and attempt to make you change and be less like you, this approach is asking you to be more like you!

Parts and self

So if that is your true self then any feeling, thinking belief or attitude you experience is what we call a ‘part’ of you. That counts for anything that differs from your calm clear confident self. So how do we distinguish between you and your parts? I want you to keep this very simple. Think of the space above your eyes as ‘the front room’. This is your mind, where you live, where your consciousness resides. Imagine another room at the back of your head. This is where the part of your brain that reacts to threat lives. So we have a simple picture of two rooms that are communicating with each other. These rooms will eventually develop a better relationship as you practice. 

The front room is generally running your life, making decisions and deciding the next course of action, for the most part. The back room is watching out for threats constantly and reacts like lightning when it sees one. These times are what we call triggered moments or episodes. The best way to think of this is that your mind (front room) is running your life, it is doing so on licence from your brain! This licence can be revoked in a fraction of a second if your brain (the back room) identifies a threat.

Protection is normal

There are two issues we have to understand before we can use this idea effectively. The first one is that the idea of your brain protecting you this way is perfectly normal. You’ve probably heard of fight and flight? So it’s not a mental illness. Okay, but the second thing is that life teaches us that certain things are threatening when they never were or are no longer. Things like these are kept in the back room where there is no timeline, and so they remain fresh as the day they happened, even though you may have forgotten all about them in the front room. This can be a big problem for anyone vulnerable to addiction. So the point is that there are times when a very basic part of your brain is running your life, not you.

Taking on board the idea that at these times it was not your core self running your life but was actually your brain trying to protect you from threat is a big deal. Understanding that you have an untainted core, a part of you that is not just a bit calmer, but is pure calm. Not just a bit clearer but is pure clarity. Of course the way you have been viewing yourself in a more traditional negative view fits right into the medical model and has probably had you reading lots of books, doing lots of exercises and maybe taking some pills. Once you start to practice working on the relationship between your parts and your core self you probably won’t be needing those things any more. No need to work on ‘changing’ yourself any more, now you can learn to access what you already have. Changing yourself is a bit like asking a tiger to change to spots instead of stripes! 

The state is where we start

All your parts are consistent. This is an important idea when you consider that you will be coming up against many years of training from the medical model that told you that you were very inconsistent. Of course this is a rational conclusion when you think of yourself as one thing. I want you to think of this recovery approach as swapping one inconsistent self with a set of consistent selves. Each of your parts is extremely consistent. They tend to turn up in the same way and for the same reasons. The difference is that the core self is the ‘untriggered’ part. The ‘you’ that is present when no triggering is happening. In order to know your parts better you need to understand the core ‘state’ of your adult self. This state is described in various ways by different religions, philosophies and therapists but, many years of neuroscience research has identified eight words which characterize and encompass the qualities of the core self. These are the ‘resources’ of the adult self. The good news is that you already have them! You need to learn them and, by understanding them better, you will be able to identify when they are not present.  


The resources 

Here are the eight words we use to understand our adult states resources. 

Calm Clear Curious Creative Confident

Courageous Connected Compassionate.

When you are in your adult state you will be able to identify with all of these words. Try first making a list of all eight words and ask yourself if you can identify with all of them in your current state. Notice any that seem to be absent. Now write another list alongside the first. This list should be how it feels when the resources are missing, their opposite if you like. So Calm becomes ‘panicky’ etc. It might look something like this;

Panic Confused Dogmatic Flat

Unconfident Frightened Disconnected Cold

Here is a table that makes these opposites clear.

Certain, Dogmatic or having a strong agenda
Flat or feeling you have no options
Unconfident, nervous or anxious
Frightened, maybe a feeling you must stay safe
Disconnected from people and life
Cold or having no feeling for others


Think of these opposites as the default position (on the left) and the way you often feel (on the right) when you are triggered by something and your brain takes over. So any time you find yourself losing any of these resources because of how someone has spoken to you or dealt with you, or even if you have had a thought yourself that has changed your state, you should assume that you are no longer in your adult state. The thought or observation that you are no longer in your ‘real state’ is made from the observer position.  

If you have found yourself saying things like “I’m hopeless and unreliable” or “I’m too angry to hold down a job” then this practice can help you massively. Since these flaws are not part of your adult self you can learn, as part of your practice, not to ‘act out’ of them but to observe them. The first thing to realise when you start practicing is that your core state is not something to achieve, it’s your default position! This is another massive shift from the traditional approaches. You have probably thought of recovery as something that is almost impossible to achieve, wrong! Something you have to fight for, wrong! Think of your core state as something that happens when the other states ‘step back’ and trust you more.

The practice

The simple way to understand the aims of the ‘observer position’ is to think of ‘re-triggering’ the adult. So when circumstances trigger your brain to protect you, your practice is to get your core self back in the driving seat. This is done not by fighting or demanding things of yourself, but by negotiating with your brain, asking it to trust you more. Think of your core state as a state of trust between the two rooms. When you decided what you wanted for breakfast this morning your brain ‘trusted’ you to make that decision. So triggering is a lack of trust, a way your brain protects you because it does not trust you to stay safe in this particular circumstance.

 Try this experiment now. Think about the last time (or the next time) you experienced this triggered state. Run it as a movie in your head or, if this is too triggering, run it as a movie on a clear space on the wall opposite you. As you watch this movie of yourself in an agitated state, notice how calm the part of you that is doing the observing! Even when you are triggered into an extreme state you can often observe from your ‘core’ state of calm confidence. It is from this position that you can start the negotiations.

 If you feel anything other than calm when you observe your parts behaviour then put the brakes on the negotiation. This is because, occasionally one part can observe (and judge) the other. These are called ‘polarised’ parts and usually take an opposite (and judgemental) position on the part that is triggered. The main thing to notice is always your ‘state’. Itis your calm confident courageous state that tells you that there is a good blend of adult. If you are feeling anything else then assume it’s a part and step back another level and observe the two of them interacting. Once you get the calm centre you can begin the negotiations.

The Family Car 

Think of yourself driving a car. In the car are several others (your parts). You could consider these parts as your ‘inner family’. Your brain is looking a long way down the road and sometimes sees a problem. Saying to itself “if we carry on down this road we are going to be in danger”. Removing you from the driving seat one of the parts takes over and turns down another road (to be safe). This road could involve activities such as drugs or alcohol, gambling or any other form of addiction or dependence. The part does not see the difficulty with this, only that it has protected you from the threat of the road you were on. This is because your parts are younger (sometimes much younger) than you are now. Think about it, if your part is eight years of age then you can only expect the kind of solution an an eight year old would come out with. Your parts do not have your experience, your maturity or your wisdom. Often they do not share your beliefs or your attitudes. Thinking about the age of your part will often give you an idea of how to engage with it. But however you try to engage, always avoid fighting!

Negotiate never demand

If you fight for possession of the steering wheel you will probably lose. Remember your brain thinks it is protecting your life! It’s not going to stop doing that. So your practice is to aim for a negotiated settlement. Always try your best to avoid any fighting or demanding when triggered. Even if you were to win the steering wheel back for a little while it is likely that your brain will eventually overpower you. Trust is the result of a negotiated settlement. Once your brain trusts you with something, it will trust you forever! So this is the best approach for two reasons, the first I have already mentioned, which is that you will probably lose. The second reason is because it is the appropriate approach when someone is trying to help you! It’s a good idea to think about the age of your part before attempting to negotiate. This is because parenting works best of its age appropriate. If you get the sense that your part is a toddler then parent in the way that seems appropriate for that age. If your part seems more like a teenage then negotiation is the way forwards.

Taking responsibility for yourself 

Western culture has for years taught us to expect that a ‘special someone’ is going to be our primary ‘caregiver’. We are encouraged that when we find them they will effectively manage our flaws and vulnerabilities. Of course this idea can also lead us to believing that we are supposed to do that for someone else. This leads to all sorts of problems with our boundaries and, like any other stored belief, will not change until we change it.

Developing the observer position, as well as the practices that follow from it, will encourage you to become your own primary caretaker. The Captain of your ship, the driver in your car. Whether you think of yourself as a Captain with a crew, or a car driver with a family, you will benefit from the practice of ‘observing’ your parts from the core position.

The number one commitment : Learn from everything!

The number one commitment : Learn from everything!

So you want to recover from addiction? You want to lose that dependency? What is your number one commitment? Say no to drugs? Come home at a reasonable time? be more honest? I say that your number one commitment in recovery is to learn from everything!

This post follows on from the idea that we can get caught in a trap of success and failure. I now want to talk more about what the solution looks like. Learn from everything!

Traditional treatment methods

New York State Inebriate Asylum

Residential Treatment Centres go back to the 1860’s when the first asylums were founded based on the size of the problem in America at the time.

The Keeley Cure

From around 1880 the ‘Keely cure’ as it was know was not only popular enough at the time to become huge (over 200 Centres were founded across America and Europe) but, with it’s emphasis on time (31 days) and fresh air and exercise, this approach largely formed the basis of Treatment Centres ever since.

How do treatment Centres work?

Before launching into a critique of treatment Centres, let me first say that, for the right person at the right time, they can and do work. Later in this piece you can read some of my experiences of working for, in and with some centres and what was achieved. My main difficulty with them is that in my experience only around 20% of those wanting help achieved recovery. This would mean that rehab is not the most appropriate treatment for 80% of people who go there!

There are lots of treatment Centres offering treatment for alcoholism and addiction generally. The approaches are varied in length and approach but the idea that they are based on is the same (I am discounting methods that include medical approaches offering a ‘cure’ such as Ibogaine, and only include talking therapy approaches here).

The approach is generally based on two things, both of which are questionable. namely, stress reduction and theory. I will explain both briefly.

Stress Reduction

Staying too safe

Essentially, this is the idea that people who become addicted are not coping with the stress of their situation and need to be removed from it in order to really concentrate all their efforts on their recovery.

The problem with this is that most addiction is based on avoiding problems and difficulties. So when someone arrives at rehab they not only have a tendency to put their feet up (since there is no stress any more) but what is worse they now have a sense that they are doing much better than they really are (they often report that they “don’t even feel like using”). And since they are officially ‘in treatment’, they assume this must be the ‘treatment working’. How wrong so many of them are!


Theories of recovery

The theoretical approach is again varied and based on different therapeutic approaches etc. The confidence in it helping is based on the idea that the patient can use good information to help themselves. Well as the saying goes ‘it’s dynamite on paper’. But when you realise that the basis of most approaches to addiction is the the addict is ‘powerless’ over their addiction, it makes less sense.

Now I’m not saying theory isn’t a good thing. Coherence and theory are part of every approach. My approach uses theory but it’s theory that is immediately applied in ‘real life’. The problem I have with residential treatment is that it’s all theory! It has to be because the patient has been removed from real life! You will realise the difference between theory and practice when you get home and try to practice it. By then it’s often too late. But there’s always the option of going back to rehab? If you have the money.

The problem with these traditional approaches

Using the ideas mentioned above traditional treatment sets up and promotes an internal conflict that most people lose or are forever struggling with. The two extremes of denial or fighting are both very difficult and unnecessary as there is a much better and stress free method. That of developing a better relationship with yourself.

Think about it. How much are you going to do for someone you don’t like? If addiction is an inappropriate relationship then relationships are where your recovery can develop. And the first relationship you should start with is the one with yourself.

I don’t want to say too much about this. For more detail see my post on this subject “the trap of success and failure”.

My experience of this trap

I wanted to say some things about my own personal experience of being caught in this trap and how I learned to avoid it and help others to do the same. Let me assure you, you can do the same.

When I was struggling with dependence on drugs and alcohol I was a young man with ideas that plague many of us. Like I would only be acceptable if I was a success. The word ‘success’ means different things to different people but for me it was sporting success.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to blame others for all of this. The money that sporting success brings would allow me to live a life separated from most people which, at that time was very desirable to me. I didn’t like people and I wanted to be separate. I didn’t realise that I was being slowly attracted into a dead world.

The problem with trying to change

Like a lot of people I didn’t like myself and knew that I needed to change. There are no end of books selling this idea that you can change and you have the power to do so. And there are no end of people making a lot of money from people who are failing to do so.

The basic psychological approach is to develop various methods that will promote change in the individual. Largely they promote the trap I write about in the link above. But I was no different and I knew no better than anyone else. So I tried, and tried, and tried! The more I tried the worse I felt when I failed. The more I failed, the harder I tried the next time. On and on it went, as I got worse and worse.

Art to the rescue!

I love films. Especially films that speak to me of human struggle that I can identify with. One evening I was watching a film about a person who was suffering from ‘multiple personality disorder’. I can’t remember much about the film but there was a ‘break through’ moment for the main character when she returned from her ‘session’ with the psychiatrist and, entering her bedroom, saw her ‘younger self’. Just a child, and very sad looking, for a moment she did not know what to do with this ‘younger self’. Finally she sat down beside her and put her arm around the youngster.

Her break through turned out to be my break through. A healing relationship with myself began when I found an old photo of myself. In the photo I was about ten years old. I reassured my young ‘self’, saying that he ‘had no chance’. And that it wasn’t his fault. I saw for the first time that he had only done his best.

For the first time in my life I was basing my progress on something other than conflict and the demand for change. For the first time in my life I had avoided the two extremes of denial and conflict. Without realising it, I had begun to grow through the power of a healing relationship with myself.

My developing recovery

As my recovery developed over the years, I did what I could in local AA groups. For twenty years I helped to run a group and supported new people in that group. At that point I trained as a counsellor.

I was asked to supervise some of the workers at a treatment Centre and was inspired to work with them. Before long I was running them, developing treatment programs and training counselors. Just like my experience in AA I saw what worked and what didn’t. Which attitudes worked well and which didn’t.

What I learned from running Rehabs

I worked in the field for over ten years. Again I won’t dwell on this period but let me tell you some of the main things I learned from all this.

  The most difficult phone calls I used to take were from friends partners and relatives of the clients. Often these callers had spent their life savings on sending their loved ones to treatment. In some cases several times.

The main theme of these calls was usually “how are they doing”. But my main memory of them was learning about the way that, with the best of intentions, they were often making things more difficult.

I also saw that, although their loved one was obviously the one that needed the ‘help’ that they were suffering and struggling just as much in their life struggle. But the difference was that they were getting no help!

Later, or in some cases sooner, following treatment, they would be reunited with their partner or child. But because they had not been party to any development or growth often what the client had learned about the ‘theory’ of recovery got overpowered by the emerging of old patterns of relating to each other. Resulting in another ‘failure’.

Avoid extremes!

In places like the AA fellowship I was told that it didn’t matter what others said or what they understood. You could ‘get well’ in spite of all of this. I also learned that it was a ‘family illness’ and that no man is an island. All true! But didn’t they seem to contradict each other?

As extremes they may seem to. But they work together once you understand that the difficulties and the solutions belong in the area of relationships! You have been attracted into a dead world! Your recovery starts when you decide to come back into the world of the living!

Ask yourself how you could improve your relationships today. Just a little bit. How could you be a little more honest with people? Who could you be a little more authentic with? What relationships are asking too much of you? Which ones do you need to do more in? Could you be a little more vulnerable in your important relationships?

Growth means learning from everything!

So, what does this mean for you and your recovery? Some people recover and never return to their habit. Other recoveries include lapses. Don’t be like the rehabs and throw away the most valuable learning you have. If things go wrong. As they do for everyone, Ask yourself what you can learn from the experience. I have a technique which can help you with this. It’s called the recovery box.

Stop worrying about success and failure and how good your recovery looks like to other people. Stop stressing about how long it’s taking and make a commitment to learning from everything! Whatever happened you can’t change it now. So learn from it. Squeeze every last drop of learning out of it.

When you commit to this approach you will become unstoppable and your recovery becomes inevitable. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

King Baby comes of age!

King Baby comes of age!

What new things we have learned about this old idea

I wanted to share some thoughts with you today around the idea of the ‘King Baby’. This idea has evolved a lot in recent years. I believe it is now a really valuable approach and method to have in your tool box whatever stage of recovery or growth you are at. In this article I will take you through the development of this idea and how the latest evidence suggests that we should all be using it.

Get psycho-educated!

This whole approach of therapists telling clients what they are trying to do comes under the heading of ‘Psycho-Education’ so I should say something about that first. I have always naturally included the idea of ‘transparency’ in my work. I have always tried to avoid doing something without someone knowing what I am doing.

But the idea of ‘psycho-education has got a lot more press lately and so I just wanted to say that I think it’s great. But only up to a point and not with everybody. We generally move away from a ‘combative’ relationship when I use the psycho-education approach. A more collaborative relationship works better in therapy work. We become more of a team with a common enemy (which is a lot closer to the truth in addiction counselling). The resources of the client can then be utilised fully.

The King is dead!

Having said that, let’s now move on to the particular theoretical idea of ‘King Baby’. And I want to start by saying where this was maybe not so useful. You see, we all have a baby inside of us, and a toddler etc. They are with us as part of (snapshots if you like) of our psychological development and so we are all affected by childishness and the related difficulties at times. Treatment Centres used this idea to create a shorthand such as ‘your baby’ or ‘your addict’. This was on the right track in that it achieved some ‘separation’ between the adult self and the ‘crazy’ part of us, but it usually did not take things any further and so this ‘King baby’ was just owned as ‘me’ and just how I am. From this perspective it becomes just another way of avoiding responsibility for ourselves.

Don’t throw out the King Baby with the bath water!

But the ‘childish reaction’ is extremely useful to explore because in counselling. The ‘out of proportion’ response can be the greatest resource for learning. It is when you react like this that you know your unconscious forces are being triggered. It is in this context that things like the ‘King Baby’ can become useful. You can understand yourself better and to develop a simple method of personal growth. If you don’t do this then you become yet another person believing they have another thing ‘wrong with them’.

So, instead of just leaving this old idea behind, consider updating it with the latest things that neuroscience can teach us about how we work as human beings. Not just addicts, but everyone.

King baby has to grow up

Maturity is a process that is driven by emotional pain and disappointment. When you found radical methods of protecting yourself from pain you produced little or no development. As we grow into adults, using and abusing drugs and alcohol as well as other forms of comforting continued this process. As an adult strategies like this become seriously unproductive. Your strategy often insists on doing the opposite of what has been suggested. Especially when authority figures (bosses, parents, therapists) suggest changes.

You can now see the ironic nature of most addiction counselling. The more the counsellor shifts into the position of ‘encouraging, telling and coaxing’ the individual into healthy behaviours the more the wilful client does the opposite! This combative experience is often mistaken for effective addiction counselling (well, they’re there for three months, you have to do something with them, right?) This is a position a lot of inexperienced therapists get themselves into.

Where did this child come from?

How did this idea form and how was it constructed? The ‘inner child’ in this earlier approach was thought of as either;

An evil spirit – Something that came from outside yourself and either took great pleasure in screwing with your life, or wanted to control your life. Or

A symptom of an illness – Based on the medical model, the inner child would be a symptom of the illness. Something that was genetically passed on. Something that you would not be fully responsible for.

What does modern science say about this. You may be fascinated to know that the idea that you have out of proportion reactions and childish responses. As well as inner critical voices etc. does not mean you are ill or that you are possessed! It turns out that it is perfectly normal! You should expect to be vulnerable to being ‘triggered’ in some ways by some things. We are all vulnerable in this way because we are all affected by adverse experiences and our brain stores this information and ‘recruits’ parts of us to stand guard.

So what does this mean for you? If you are trying to develop your recovery in the face of what you are calling ‘your crazy behaviour’ or your ‘terrible decisions’ the important thing is that you can now start to work with yourself instead of against yourself. Stop thinking of your inner child as something you want to get rid of, disown or fight with and start to get curious about how they started all this, and why your brain thought it was necessary in the first place. In other words start to work with yourself instead of against yourself. Here is a related article about how stopping fighting really helps you to grow.

The war is over – it’s time to flourish and grow

These inner protectors or ‘firefighters’ (that’s what we call these parts that step in when things get threatening) are only trying to help. So we start from a position of gratitude. “Thanks for all the help, but I’ve got this now” should be your basic stance. Once you have got over the idea that you are not crazy because you have ‘parts’. Your most adult self is essentially becoming that guy in the film who talks someone into giving them the gun because the crisis is over. So you survived the war (and this part helped you) now it’s time to put the weapons away and get on with your life.

You now have the information you need. But information is not enough on its own. You need to practice. Don’t worry, you will get plenty of opportunity to practice! Every time you are triggered, or are facing a situation where you know you are about to be triggered you can see this as an opportunity to practice. Ask yourself reflective questions like, “what is my part threatened by in this situation”? And “how can I convince this part that there is no danger to me as an adult”? Any question of this kind will ‘wake up the adult’ since the adult is the only one who can answer these questions.

There is also an aspect of training that needs to be understood. You have trained your will (baby/inner child) that it is in charge and so expect some fireworks when you start to parent. The more you can think of this ‘treatment’ as having an ‘actual’ child, the better and more intuitive your responses will be. Good parenting comes from a loving place, and when it does the child feels the sense of security in how they are ‘held’ that allows it to be calmer and less distressed.

Self parenting – Be your own inner Dad or Mum

Alright, I know. Some of us had terrible experiences of being parented. Or we had no parents. Fine. Think of it as self management. Or, from a Christian perspective, think of it as a form of inner Shepherding.

I want to give you another thought on managing yourself and using these situations to grow. The effective approach here generally falls into three categories. Loving, affirming and assertive. Try all three but again the general guidance is that it depends upon the age of the child. We know that parenting looks different depending upon the age of the child.

I was watching a Mum in the store the other day and her ability as a parent gave me a great example to share with you. The child was two and she was carrying him. He was making a fuss as he had spotted something he wanted and she was paying for the shopping (with her free arm). All the time getting done what she needed to get done and ignoring what she knew was not a serious complaint from the baby. Perfect parenting! For a two year old.

When you sense that your child is older then the parenting style will change. As a teenager you will not be ignored! And as a ten year old you can have things explained to you. If you can trace the trauma or shaming event back to a specific time then you will know the exact age of your ‘part’. So parent accordingly, but always from a place of love and gratitude. Be curious and interested. Get to know yourself again.

Basically it is always about producing security for the youngster through disciplined consistent authority. You can do this for the child in you. Remember that helping a child through convincing it that you are going to take care of things can be a long and uncomfortable process, not something that can be ‘switched on’ through knowledge.

How to spot when your parts are at work

Your ‘parts’ share a wide range of personality traits. No one has all these traits, but you will probably find many that describe you. Your parts may show any of these characteristics. Remember we are looking for anything that is ‘out of proportion with the circumstances.

  • Often become angry or afraid of authority figures and will attempt to work them against each other in order to get their own way
  • seek approval and frequently lose their own identities in the process
  • able to make good first impression but unable to follow through
  • have difficulty accepting personal criticism and become threatened and angry when criticized
  • have addictive personalities and are driven to extremes
  • are often immobilized by anger and frustration and are rarely satisfied
  • are usually lonely even when surrounded by people
  • are chronic complainers who blame others for what is wrong in their lives
  • feel unappreciated and think they don’t fit
  • see the world as a jungle filled with selfish people who aren’t there for them
  • see everything as a catastrophe, a life or death situation
  • judge life in absolutes: black and white, right and wrong
  • live in the past, fearful of the future
  • have strong feeling of dependence and exaggerated fears of abandonment
  • fear failure and rejections and don’t try new things that they might not do well
  • are obsessed with money and material things
  • dream big plans and schemes and have little ability to make them happen
  • cannot tolerate illness in themselves or others
  • prefer to charm superiors and intimidate subordinates
  • believe rules and laws are for others, not for themselves
  • often become addicted to excitement, life in the fast lane
  • hold emotional pain within and lose touch with their feelings

Take any one of these characteristics and think about how it applies to you, what it has had you doing, and what it has stopped you doing. Make up your mind to become friends with yourself and to treat your parts with dignity and respect even though they may abuse you at times! All good parents accept this tension between themselves and their kids. Integration and inner harmony is our goal and recovery is a healthy by-product of that inner relationship. Thanks for taking the time to read this and be blessed.

Creating Magic moments

Creating Magic moments

Raising moments above the ordinary

You have many ordinary moments in your life. What makes a magic moment for you? Many times we encounter people and circumstances that never rise above the ordinary. In all fairness we must admit that we have a huge part to play in this. The way we relate to people and engage with them is what can raise things to become a ‘magic moment’ or can allow them to become just another day among many.

These days I do some of my work in a busy part of London. After one particularly busy day I was shopping in a small store for a sandwich and a drink. The store was crowded with around 200 shoppers and there were at least 25 staff running around trying to keep everything going. As I waited to pay I surveyed the scene and felt a very uncomfortable sense of isolation. I noticed that no one was connected (except in our desire to get what we wanted and get out of there). It was as if we were all there on our own. Each individual dealing with the difficulties of their day.

I can’t claim that I created a ‘magic moment’ that night. But I was determined to lift someones evening and my own out of the ordinary. I helped someone to pick up something they had dropped and smiled at them with a polite word or two. It doesn’t seem much but in that atmosphere it was the equivalent of the ‘red carpet treatment’. And who are we to say what elevates the moment for another? If that person could speak to me now would they say that they had completely forgotten my word of kindness? Or that it prevented them from doing something they would regret? We can only engage and show kindness to another. We can never say what the effect will be.

One of my past lives

many years ago, in what seems now like a past life I was a snooker player. In my dreams I wanted to be the next Steve Davis. I gave it my best shot but ultimately did not have the talent or the nerve that the top player needs to sustain a professional career. Much older now I am happy that I tried my best, created some great memories and do not have to live with that nagging question “could I have made it”.

The event

During one particular evening I was involved in an exhibition match between Terry Griffiths and my hero Steve Davis. I was to play one of them in a warm up game before the main event. After spending some time with them both in the dressing room it was time to start the exhibition.

My nerves were jangling as we stood in the dark behind the tiered seating. As we were being introduced I dropped my chalk! It disappeared under the seating scaffold and I couldn’t see a thing. I was just beginning to contemplate playing without chalk when Terry Griffiths, ex World Champion in his finest dress suit got down on his knees and flicked on his lighter (most of us still smoked back in the eighties). He disappeared under the seats after my chalk as he was being introduced by the compare who mentioned all his achievements and raised a great amount of applause!

I was amazed to see that unknown to this audience enthusiastically applauding Terry’s great achievements he was on his knees looking for my 50 pence piece of chalk!

Creating Magic Moments in life

What raised this event into a ‘magic moment’? What made it stick in my memory some thirty five years later? You could say it was a mixture of several things that came together to make it memorable and meaningful. The first word that comes to mind is humility. I met many people who thought they were God’s gift to sport and lorded it over people while they could. It was the decision to not only not do this but to see me as someone worth helping that made it special for me.

The other thing for me is the way that he did this when others would have been listening to the great things being said about them. Again I have plenty of examples in my memory of people who would be much more interested in how they were being treated than in how they were treating others. The idea that sporting heroes are special is what gives them the ability to make magic moments for someone.

The idea that he was sensitive to the difference in our position and experience was also important to me. The evening meant very different things to us both. he was essentially at work whilst I was being given a great opportunity. Something about the way he recognised that and allowed for it added meaning for me.

And yet, for me my magic moment stands out all the more because there were no photographs, no crowd involvement. It was completely personal. But I feel sure that it was not about me either. It felt like something Terry would have done for anyone in that situation. It was the private aspect that made it special for me. 

Who can forget the scenes of young Bradley Lowery when brought out as one of the mascots at Sunderland. This was the very definition of a magic moment. Very moving and clearly over and above the call of duty. We can all appreciate the extra effort and investment of the players and staff.

Finally I want to say thank you to a great sportsman, Terry Griffiths. For creating a ‘magic moment’ for me. I have never forgotten what was created in a few seconds. By someone who didn’t have to. Respect for other human beings and a rare humilty, along with my nerves came together all those years ago to create a ‘magic moment’. Thanks Terry.