You can grow anywhere
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.
Isolation is one of the big four issues
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.