If you are thinking of attempting to get away from your addiction my advice is not to rush into it. Give yourself the best chance you can by preparing for it. I believe that it’s useful to use a metaphor such as ‘building a home’ as a way of understanding some of the challenges and their solutions. This is the third in a short series on preparation using that metaphor. We have already looked at design and cost. Now we are going to take a look at an equally important aspect of your preparation. Location.
In this metaphor location means who you are involved with socially, what neighbourhood do you want to live in? This part of the metaphor is one of the closest to the real thing as you may have to physically move in order to recover. To help you to think through the challenges involved here read through this article which will look at the assumptions we make as well as the grieving we must do.
Don’t assume that you can recover where you are
I often say that the ‘medical way’ of looking at recovering from addiction is not the most useful. It can lead to an idea that we can recover just by stopping using the drug of choice or the behaviour that is addictive and leave everything else the same. I want you to know that in most cases this idea has to go! If I said to you that in order to recover you had to change your social life completely what would you say?
When you recovery from addiction you must take into account many aspects of your life. There is the chemical aspect and the behavioural aspect. Of course these are seen as the most important. But there is also the Family aspect, the work aspect, the financial aspect and, last but not least, the social aspect. Who you spend your time with when you have a choice about it will have a huge impact on the quality of your recovery. As well as how hard it is to achieve.
Location, location, location!
One of the biggest questions you will ask yourself when you are thinking about building or buying your new home is “where do I want to live”? I want you to start thinking about this as part of your preparation. In using our metaphor of building your recovery, consider moving away from your current location. By which I mean the people you are spending time with. Ask yourself, what have they got me doing? What have they got me thinking? What follows are a few thoughts to help you to consider this question in more depth.
The disapproval of others
One of the things that will affect the way you think this through will be the influence others have on you. If you are ‘easily led’ or too keen to meet others expectations, you will tend towards staying where you are. This is because of the way that we tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us. Social media has taken this to extremes these days by using algorithms that increasingly focus us on who we already are. This has a tendency to make us more closed minded and narrow. It’s an extreme version of what we do socially.
Make no mistake, when you move home you will upset some people who had other plans for you. Even if all you are doing for them is making them look more normal by drinking as much as they do, they will argue for you to ‘stay where you are’. If you have been using drugs or drinking for a long time it can be your whole social world. Take the time to think through the difficulties here and how you might cope with them.
Acceptance of limitations
You may have a tendency to overestimate your ability to cope with things. An inflated ego goes hand in hand with low self worth. Don’t be fooled by that cocky overconfident voice that tells you that ‘you’ll be fine’. Staying in the same ‘location’ can mean that you are surrounded by people who have a vested interest in keeping you addicted.
Ask yourself this “how easy is it for me to say no to my friends”? In other articles you will learn about your ‘triggers’. How many of them are produced by your friends can be shocking. Being honest about your limitations can be the best preparatory step you take.
Letting go of quick fixes
As part of my work I have worked with many sportsmen, including wrestlers and trainers. They are the ones most likely to understand what I mean when I say that becoming mentally ‘fit’ is very similar to becoming physically fit. It as about the same level of difficulty, it takes about the same amount of time and is about as challenging to maintain. Take a look at your tendency to ‘minimise’ things now. This is not a quick fix. This is not going to be as easy as you may have found other challenges. Buying a new home is a twenty five year commitment. The more you have that in perspective the better chance you have.
Expect to grieve the old location
If you move (and I want you to know that most of you need to) you will begin a grieving process. This is normal and inevitable. It forms one of the major difficulties in recovery. Although it is often played down or missed out altogether in some approaches. Why might you find it so difficult? Mainly because you may be ignorant of it. If you do not expect to go through it you will misunderstand it and will probably feel there is something wrong with your recovery.
I want to take you through the different phases of bereavement as well as some of the typical things you can expect as part of this process. This will help as I always say…..
Expectation changes experience!
One of the things that will affect the way you think this through will be the influence others have on you. If you are ‘easily led’ or too keen to meet others expectations, you will tend towards staying where you are. This is because of the way that we tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us. Social media has taken this to extremes these days by using algorithms that increasingly focus us on who we already are. This has a tendency to make us more closed minded and narrow and is an extreme version of what we do socially.
Make no mistake, when you move home you will upset some people who had other plans for you. Even if all you are doing for them is making them look more normal by drinking as much as they do, they will argue for you to ‘stay where you are’. If you have been using drugs or drinking for a long time it can be your whole social world. Take the time to think through the difficulties here and how you might cope with them.
Denial is part of the early stages of bereavement and in terms of your recovery is often felt prior to giving up. In the same way that, if their loved one is involved in a long illness, a family often begin their grieving prior to losing them. So make sure that you are no longer in denial by the time you decide to quit. Preparation can include quite a lot of the grieving process prior to stopping.
Bargaining is a complex form of denial that either minimises the loss or creates a ‘deal’ that influences the loss. Usually by some form of commitment. In the loss of a loved one, it often takes the form of charity work. Essentially the deal is something like “If I can raise enough money for research into this illness, it won’t have really happened”. In the context of recovery it sometimes takes the form of ‘service’ in a fellowship such as AA. Or it can be the throwing of yourself into ‘being the Dad you should have been’ etc. When it comes prior to stopping it is often a form of minimising such as “this is no big deal”.
Depression and Anger
I’m going to put these two stages together for the sake of this article as there are so many cross over points. Although they are different, in standard bereavement they are interchangeable and may come and go to an extent.
Without understanding that this is a normal and expected phase depression and anger can get in the way of your growth in recovery. No matter how bad it was, it probably wasn’t all bad. There are parts of your experience that you will naturally miss. There are things that your ‘addicted self’ could do that your ‘recovered self’ cannot, such as ‘exit-ing’ for the afternoon when you’re a bit bored. Depression and anger can also be part of regret. Remember that any form of addiction means that you are not where you should be in life. Your career, your family, your relationship. Even your bank balance are all affected. When you look at others who can seemingly do what you cannot. These are all common reasons to get angry or to become depressed, or both.
Of course acceptance is the final stage of bereavement, when you come to terms with reality and make peace with God or life or fate. And this is another reason why it is a part of recovery you need to be involved with. Again, this may be something you reach prior to stopping! Generally, this is achieved as part of your abstinent time but be aware that the depth of your preparation can cause you to go through the whole bereavement process prior to stopping.
Generally acceptance can be compared with a full recovery since it is a necessary component of a complete recovery. Although acceptance itself would not achieve your full recovery as I have seen people accept that they must not drink any more but not be much closer to truly recovering. Try the following exercise to get some idea of whether you need to move your location.
The relationship exercise
Again, just a simple exercise to get you thinking about the way your relationships construct you. And how they affect you. You will need a pen and paper only.
Write down the names of everyone you spend time with. About ten people is the average. Now think about scoring them from 1 to 10. The important thing here is that you are scoring them on how you feel about yourself after you have been with them. Not how you feel about them.
So, anyone above five is someone who you should consider spending more time with. Anyone below five you should consider spending less time with. This counts for family as well as friends and work colleagues. How does this affect your decision to move away from this area? If most are scoring less than five you almost certainly need to be thinking about moving away. Which means getting new friends or even a new job. If most are scoring over five then you are good to stay where you are. Just maybe make one or two adjustments.
So now we have covered the big three of preparation, Location Design and cost. The next series will be about your foundation building on which the rest of your house will stand. Till next time, don’t build too fast, or too slow.
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
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.
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!
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 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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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 I want you to consider the idea of differences. Internal differences. Can you accept or even consider the idea that there are parts of you that do not see things the same way you do? That do not have the same beliefs that you do?
There is no more difficult moment for my clients than when they are recounting some ‘crazy’ thing they did or said. Describing it as something they are ashamed of or how it was ‘just not like me’ can be one of the most challenging things for people in early recovery. But once they understand the way their brain works when threatened they have a coherent method to work with.
Before my clients enter treatment their options are limited. They can either attempt to fight these compulsions (conflict) or attempt to deny their existence (fragment). Only when they enter treatment and understand why these things are happening can they accept themselves (harmonise). Let’s take these options one at a time so you can check out if this is what you have been doing.
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.
But these books are talking about our relationships with others not ourselves. Then we might think it works for the relationship with our self just the same. You see I fully agree that conflict and it’s resolution is the key to personal growth (on the outside). Please click this link for my take on this. But our relationship with ourselves 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 a part you are dealing with a child. But a child that is much stronger than you! Overpowering it is not an option!
Our brain protects us
Now this understanding doesn’t mean that we should just allow all kinds of hateful and demeaning language to go on in our heads. It doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to control ourselves in challenging situations. It means that we should understand that we have parts of us that are trying to protect us and do not necessarily think the same way that we do about things. For instance you as an adult may genuinely want to stop drinking but a younger self does not!
You see there is a very good reason why the mind and brain relate in this way. The brain is much better at helping you survive genuine danger! It is faster and more ruthless in it’s decision making. And it does not waste time philosophising or meditating, being mindful or even things like hunger or desire. It makes the decision that you are in danger and simply shuts your mind down and takes over, at lightning speed! Once the danger is passed, you are given your licence back and can start making decisions again.
Once we get the idea that we have younger parts, and that these parts do not have the same maturity wisdom or experience that we do we can start to approach these things from a more effective angle.
Whilst it’s true that nothing works for everybody, we can also say that everything seems to work for a while! Even the worst ideas can appear good in the short term. Denial fits into this category because it would be everybody’s short term pick. Just pretend it didn’t happen! Just convince yourself it isn’t true! For as long as it works it’s the perfect solution since there’s no effort, no cost and no time wasting on solutions. If you have felt the effects of long term denial then you know what I’m talking about. For this article I want to show you the damaging effects of fragmentation.
Denial in addiction is like trying to pretend that an embarrassing relative actually does not belong in your family. As long as you are convincing yourself and others that you don’t know this person you don’t have to feel the shame of what they do. But you are tearing yourself apart.
The start of integration
I help my clients to be grateful for what the ‘part’ is trying to do. I help them to understand that when they were very young they had limited knowledge of how to handle a dangerous situation and so they could not expect much in the way of growth. These were what I call survival strategies and their only aim is to keep you breathing! My clients learn that they are no longer in a war zone and so the survival strategies are no longer appropriate. What they need now are flourishing strategies!
So you will take a very different approach once you acknowledge the part of you that is trying to help you and to start to work with it. I call this ‘integration’. Here are three things we say about our ‘parts’
1 They are created by trauma
2 They are triggered by threat
3 They are always trying to help you survive
So why is it they screw things up with what they have me saying or doing? “I behave like a madman sometimes”. “I say I’ll never do it again and then there I am, at it again”. These are very typical things to hear in my line of work. Let’s apply this new understanding of our ‘parts’ to these stories and see what happens.
Inner harmony begins to be created once you assume that anything you do that is out of proportion with the situation is being decided by a ‘part’. In other words you start from the assumption that your ‘adult’ is not only able to handle things in a measured and grounded way but that your adult will always make the best decisions based on the circumstances. Inner harmonising develops when you accept the three things above and work with your younger part to deal with whatever your brain is perceiving as a threat.
When someone is introduced to these ideas they can be a little difficult to take in. When someone is struggling to take it in I ask them which football team they support. I tell them that I support another team and ask them if it seems crazy to have two different opinions in the room? Of course there is no problem and so I go on to ask if we can still talk and get on? Again no problem.
Sometimes I ask them if they always believed what they now believe. “If we went back in time to when you were ten, would you have the same beliefs or understanding you have now”? Of course they would not, and this helps them to make sense of what is going on between their ears.
Understanding your parts
Your ‘parts’ screw things up because when your brain perceives a strong enough threat your mind is ‘shut down’ and a much younger part of you is pushed out there to deal with whatever is going wrong. Imagine a six year old having to come up with a solution to your ‘grown up problems’. Here are three things I want you to know about the way your younger parts think
1 It is always about now (they don’t think about the future)
2 It is always naive (they do not think about the health consequences or any other consequences)
3 It is always radical (If one adult proves untrustworthy, don’t trust any of em)
Look for these things in your ‘triggered states’.
Integrating your ‘parts’ is part of your recovery journey
In a process I call ‘self-parenting’ or ‘self-management’ you will learn not to fight with your parts who are only trying to help. Nor will you deny your role in things when a part takes over. Rather you will learn to parent yourself as part of your growth into recovery. I go into more detail in the links to podcasts below but I will say a little about how this is done here.
The actual trauma that created this particular ‘part’ may not be known to you or be very obvious to you. Remember that trauma is how something affects you, not something we can measure by the size of any particular event. But even if you can’t remember anything it can still help to have a picture of yourself at a certain age (photos work well). A nickname can also help since the first move towards integration is to develop a little separation (ironic I know).
Now ask yourself “when things got hard for me at that age, what could I have really done with from my parents but didn’t get”? This gives you a starting point for self parenting. When feeling ‘triggered’ by anything you can now apply this parenting from your adult self and integration of your ‘part’ begins.
I will leave a link to a three episode series I’ve done on ‘inner child work’ that will go into more detail on this approach.
Finally, if you are interested in learning more about this approach or running a group based on these ideas, please watch the video below
So one of the main principles of growth is…… growth? I know, it seems a silly thing to include. But the importance of this demands that it gets its own section. Let me first extract the principle here so that we have a context for the rest of this section.
The only way to authentic recovery is to outgrow your difficulties
This then reflects back to the whole process. Where it also becomes a part of the process is when we look at the day to day attitude we have towards our life and experiences. You will not be able to say that you have accepted growth as a basic principle until you stop seeing your daily experience as problems you need to solve and start seeing it as lessons you need to learn!
Have you been trying to recover and clean up your act without accepting that you need to grow? Every time you do that you are in conflict with yourself (or should I say parts of yourself that do not want to stop. You are having to manipulate others into changing to suit you. And let’s not forget that you are having to work with the resources you started with.
Growth builds resources so you get more as you go. Now I’m not looking at you when I say this but, there are lots of people that pay for a gym membership and then don’t go! What does this mean? It means that, on some level at least they believe that just paying will do it. Just wanting it will do it. Just agreeing to it will do it. Of course none of this works but it is revealing how many people must struggle with these sort of ideas.
It’s the same with your recovery. Recovery is the healthy consequences of growth. Addiction is the unhealthy consequences of not growing.
Psalm 40 – Being lifted up
“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings”. The King James version includes the ‘horrible pit’ and so I included it even though the language is a bit obscure for the modern reader. The NIV says
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
What ‘horrible pit’ is the psalmist referring to? Clearly this is not a physical place and ‘miry’ refers to the type of prison the Romans had in Athens and in Rome where there was just one hole at the top but you could never get out because of the clay and mud. You could never get a foothold to climb and so you were trapped in a place where you could make no progress.
You must be ‘lifted up’ in order to make progress. That means firstly that you need help from outside yourself. Through Gods word and his ways. The power that resides in his eternal truth. Put more simply, you grow when you face the difficulties of doing things the right way.
But first you must acknowledge your problem. Until you ‘Cry out in your distress’ you don’t enter that relationship where you can be helped. As long as you maintain that everything is alright you will never accept radical solutions. These only look possible from a position of extreme circumstances.
Growth is permanent
As long as you are feeding your habit whether it is substance or behaviour you are running to stay still. It will become increasingly hard to maintain this position and keep this ‘groundhog day’ going. It takes a lot of energy to stay where you are! You are now learning from this that the ‘static view’ of things flies in the face of reality. Your natural place is to grow and develop.
Growth is not temporary. Anything that has created genuine growth will benefit you for the rest of your days. You will not shrink back to how you were. In every situation and issue we bring all that we are to the moment. Growth is all about being able to bring more to the table when facing responsibilities and challenges. It’s cumulative in that you are not only using your growth resources but you are also creating more growth as part of the process.
Your world may look interesting and exciting, but if it doesn’t have living relationships in it, it actually looks like this.
The attraction of the dead world
I spoke about in the last episode on isolation about the ‘dead world’. There is another reason why this world attracts people who are suffering. It’s not just about the lack of scrutiny and accountability that makes it attractive. The dead world also attracts you because it doesn’t move! One of the main shifts I made when I started to study the ‘systemic approach’ was the challenging idea that the world is in a state of ‘flux’. That means that everything is going somewhere, all the time!
It made me think about my world view, which was definitely a ‘static’ one. I viewed the world as full of static objects that basically stayed wherever they were put until someone or something moved them. In my training I was connected up with the very challenging idea that the natural state of the world was change! This basically blew my mind and it took some getting used to. Ask yourself now, which is your world view closer to? Static or changing?
How this changes everything
Once I believe that change is the natural order of things I have to deal with two big ideas. Number one, I have to allow change in others and accept that brings challenges to me. The first of which is to become sensitive to those changes. Number two, I have to accept that I have been putting a lot of energy in staying the same! Staying the same may feel safer and more secure but remember that you are going against the natural order of things. this can be exhausting and for a while gave you a sense that you were doing something. Ultimately you are running to stay still.
The consequences of staying the same
Once you were in the groove, now you’re stuck in a rut
You are probably right in the middle of facing these consequences right now. So you know what they are already. But here’s a recap just so we can be clear. There are health consequences, relationship consequences, family consequences, financial consequences and career consequences.
as the addiction and dependence on unhealthy survival strategies continues, the consequences get worse. there is a strong connection between attitudes and physiology. You develop illnesses and health problems. These can get very serious and life threatening.
recovery generally begins in an active sense when the ‘cure becomes worse than the disease’. Don’t forget that what now may seem like a problem started off as a solution! You did it because it felt better! Like any unhealthy strategy, the consequences grow and grow until… yes, the moment when you realise that it’s no longer worth it. It’s time to stop. Are you at that stage?
By staying in the same place you are getting into a habit of reacting the same way to things. Denying, avoiding, procrastinating, stealing, lying, arguing. All these things become reinforced over time as they become your only option. When ponds become stagnant the problems are obvious. It’s the same with you. Ask yourself now. Is there still a good reason to be ultra safe? To never change and grow? Is the war still on?
The war is over – be grateful that you are still alive
Finally surrendered forty years after the war was over
Years after the Second World War was over Japanese soldiers were still being discovered on remote islands. They had lived for years thinking that they were in a war that had finished decades ago. Are you thinking you are still in a war that is actually over?
The need to become stagnant was a ‘survival strategy’. If the war is over then it’s time to develop ‘flourishing strategies’. In order to do this you need to realise that what you did was necessary. You may have developed these strategies as a result of being abused or mistreated. Having to live in a home with mental illnesses or addiction. Mistreatment. Children cannot leave like adults and so you had to survive. You used your child’s resources and came up with a plan that got you through. It worked! You survived. Now you need to acknowledge that the war is over.
Honour your child self for helping you to survive. Be grateful that it worked. Appreciate what you have done for yourself. One of the first challenges i recovery is developing this better attitude towards yourself. You have been taught that you are not worth caring for and you look back on your past with self loathing because of what has happened. You must find some appreciation for what you have done for yourself.
Survival strategies work best in times of crisis, times of war. When survival would be a result! They come from a time in your life when they were completely appropriate. You must ask yourself now, are they still?
Here is the big problem with survival strategies. They do not bring any growth. As long as you are still breathing at the end of the day they have worked. It’s as simple as that. Ask yourself now how would you feel if someone did not appreciate you when you saved their life? When all they asked of you was to survive and when you were 100% successful, they resented you! If the war is over then swap those survival strategies for flourishing strategies. Choose life!
Here are a few pointers towards the flourishing strategies. Remember that you should go at your own pace. I always recommend 5% growth aims for my clients. Don’t set yourself up to fail by rushing into something you are not ready for.
1 Communication – When you don’t say what you want and don’t ask for what you need, you are saying that you are not worth anything. Try improving your communication by getting a little closer to what you want to say. Here is an exercise you can try.
2 Authenticity – I often say to my clients “you need to go home and let them know who you really are”. When you think you will be rejected or that you are not worth anything you will not show yourself. Again, making small shifts works best. Here is a blog on the subject.
3 Vulnerability – If you have been hurt or abused in the past then you will not show any vulnerability. I couldn’t be wrong for thirty years because I ‘knew’ what would happen to me if I was. it would be used against me. Again, a survival strategy. Rather than attacking people or starting another argument, try saying where someone has hurt you or how it feels when someone says ‘those things’ to you. Here is an article on the subject of relationships affected by addiction.
Hope that helps and thanks for taking the time to read this. The final episode in this series will be the fourth one and it will be on self management.
So this post is on isolation but the principle could be called ‘relating’. This is the second in this series on the core principles of growth into recovery from addiction. I want to continue to remind you that these are ideas that will produce personal growth and development. As such they will be useful to everyone who tries them.
That’s why when I train people to run a ‘Building Recovery’ group I always remind them that they are to be participants in the course, not just teachers. So let’s take a look now at why I want you to think of isolation as one of the if not the main enemy to growth and recovery.
Let’s start with a definition before we go on to talk about why isolation is so bad. The definition of isolation is ‘keeping apart’. Cambridge Dictionary. Notice how close this is to a definition of ‘holy’ which is to be ‘set apart’. Never confuse these two! Remember that the Bible tells us that even Satan appears as an ‘Angel of light’. 2 Cor 11/14. Bad things often appear as good things and good things are often lost for fear of doing a bad thing!
Separation is not isolation. We are to be separate but not isolated! Seeking solace in quiet times, going on retreats and meditation breaks is not isolating. What’s the difference I hear you ask. Well Separating is a thing but isolating isn’t!
Isolation is not a thing
Be careful when you think about something. You see when you think about something you make it a thing. Did you ever think about a problem and get all worried and anxious but then found out it wasn’t anything? Well you made nothing into something for a while didn’t you? Isolating is like that. You can be tempted to think about ‘isolating’ because it seems like this is the problem you need to solve. Once you turn it into something you have been distracted away from what is effective because isolation is more like the absence of something.
Isolation is not a cause it’s an effect. Isolation is what happens when we stop relating to living things. It happens when we stop talking about what’s real. It’s what happens when we stop being honest and when we stop being authentic. Choosing to be alone is not isolating.
Why is isolation so common?
So if isolation is the consequence of withdrawing from the world of living things. The first question becomes “why is it so popular”? I mean if it’s so bad for you, why are we all doing it? To answer this question we need to look again at it’s opposite. Not why are we doing this but what is so hard about the alternative.
One of hardest thing you do is to be involved in the living world. Ask yourself now. How involved are you with living things? When you think about this, don’t be fooled by things like how busy you are or how many meetings or events you attend. Not even how much charity work you are doing! Think about your close relationships. How authentic are you in those relationships?
If your answers disappointed you, I want you to think about why and how you have developed this situation. What makes the dead world so attractive? Here is a list that is not comprehensive but will give you a few things to think about changing and to help you to be understanding and empathetic as to why you have got to this stage. This list is relevant to most situations whether you are talking about alcohol, work or any other dead thing.
It’s easy – It’s safe – It’s less challenging – It’s consistent – It doesn’t answer back – It’s always where we left it.
You may be surprised at the amount of things I am including in the ‘dead world’. It’s much easier to say what is in the living world, people! Whatever spiritual beliefs you have you will probably recognise that people are the most alive thing we have. So, in essence they are the opposite of the list above. They are not easy. Often not safe. They are challenging, often inconsistent, they answer back and they do not stay where we thought we left them!
When we look at the difference between these lists it’s pretty easy to see why most of us are choosing the dead over the living. But there are consequences!
Why is isolation so bad for us?
Isolation is something we always knew was bad. I have worked in addiction treatment centres for years and we always cited it as something to avoid. Neuroscience is now showing us that it’s even worse than we thought. Don’t take my word for it, go and do your own research. Any short view of the internet will tell you that the science is consistent on this question. If I were coaching you into recovery I would want you to be interested in discussing the following short list.
We need outside influences
Firstly let’s take a look at your thinking. What would you say about it. Is it good? I know that you have to mainly rely on yourself to get through life but how are you at solving problems, critically analysing situations etc? Well, here’s the problem. Whatever issues there may be with your thinking, they are multiplied when there are no outside influences.
When you don’t share your problems. Don’t let people in. Don’t engage in open ended conversations or let people know what you are thinking. Every time a thought goes around your head any flaws in your thinking are multiplied. Engaging in the living world and improving your relationships is the best way to iron out any flaws in your thinking.
You may have all sorts of problems with doing what I am asking. Trust issues can be huge when it comes to other human beings. Vulnerability can also be a big issue. Don’t think you have to do all this straight away! I always ask my clients to think of these things as aims.
Dead things don’t change us
I don’t care how much you love your work, your heroin or your gambling. The biggest problem you have here is that relationships with these things do not change you. Think about it. You are being made worse from both directions! Not only are you needing to change and withdrawing from the things that change you. You are also getting more involved with the things that keep you the same!
You will have noticed a tendency to stagnate in your life through your addiction. The ‘Groundhog day’ experience is common in addiction. The more you become involved (enter a ‘bonded relationship) with dead things the more stuck you will be. No matter how rich you get or how safe you feel.
Modern forms of isolation
New forms of developing relationships with dead things are emerging all the time. They are becoming more and more disturbing as you might imagine. At one time we thought of isolation as people who were uncommunicative. Distant spouses and people who were always at work. Loved ones who were always high on some drug or other. More recently we would be talking about people who were forever online gambling or gaming.
Today we would add people who are always on their phones and tablets. Social media (or antisocial media as I like to call it) is quickly becoming a huge problem. As things like FOMO (fear of missing out) and greater ranges of news feeds are available. Internet addiction or IUD as it’s sometimes called is a fairly new phenomenon. However given the short amount of time these things have been available the rate at which it is growing is becoming a real concern. And even more concerning might be our reaction to it with attitudes like “some people are not ready for the technology”.
Sex toys are becoming more life like. A new generation of robot sex dolls are about to hit the market this year. As they become cheaper they will be common place in our lives before long. Sex therapists are saying that some people will be vulnerable to ‘falling in love’ with them. Forgive me if this just got a little bit too disturbing for you but this is where we are now and best to know that. Catering for and encouraging all manner of perversions, and drawing in the vulnerable through these manufactured dolls.
The Simple Solution
So this article has been about one of the founding principles of growth and recovery from addiction. Isolation, or, more specifically avoiding it, is one of the most important principles and the solution is simple but challenging. Make it an aim to move further into the living world. Do a little bit every day. Ask your self “is what I am doing now part of the living world or the dead world”?
Please do not try and change too quickly! I always suggest 5% to my clients. Imagine a set of controls for all your relationships. One for honesty, one for authenticity. One for how quick you are to apologise. Another for assertiveness.
Try asking yourself in any given situation “If I turned up this slider 5%, what would that look like here”?
Thanks for taking the time to read this. See you on the next one.