Friday, October 20th 2017

Facing the void after addiction

Spiritual growth, done right, brings feel-good benefits as good as those from alcohol or drugs — if only addicts would give it time to enter their bloodstream…

BY MARY COOK — People in twelve-step programs speak fondly about their “rock bottom,” the pain and suffering that led them into recovery. But then comes an unexpected hitch: problems and stress continue to visit us in sobriety, and we are not generally thankful for the opportunity they provide for us to learn and grow.

Deprived of the substance that once numbed the pain, if we expect to be in charge of what life brings us we will feel victimized.  When we give power to external care-taking more than internal care-taking, we will feel empty.

There are natural consequences that manifest from our dominant thoughts, feelings and actions.  When we are not moving in a healthy direction, negative internal and external signals indicate this.  When we ignore the early warnings, the signals escalate.  Thus the more mindful and reflective we are, the earlier we can intervene in our own creation and progression of problems.

Fight, flight or faith?

Spiritual growth is an alchemical process that changes negative thoughts, feelings and actions into their positive counterpart.  This is typically what addicts attempt to do with compulsions.  True transformation, however, is not a defensive process.  It is the truth that frees us from darkness, not denial, running away or fighting.

We must appreciate and understand what holds negative energy within us and in our life, and see the root problem below it.  The origin of negative energy is always a part of us that needs healing, understanding and love.  Reacting superficially to symptoms and defense mechanisms increases negative energy, leading us further away from a healthy solution.

When no one has heard or understood our pain, and darkness is our dominant experience, we communicate this through negative actions against ourselves and others. Our own defending and offending behaviors and attitudes stimulate the same in others, which reinforces fear and negativity.  Our need to protect ourselves from chronic pain leads us to disengage with our true self and with others.  We are stuck here until someone helps us see another part of ourselves that knows a higher truth.

When our defenses finally cannot withstand the pressure of our pain, we become more aware of the magnitude of our confusion and failure. If we have sufficient hope for a different solution, our gift of desperation allows us to reach out for help.

End of the tunnel

Psychology talks about the importance of seeking emotionally corrective experiences, in order to overcome trauma and negative habits.  We need to find people who are safe, supportive and helpful to our recovery, and then we need to be vulnerable with them.  We must allow them to point out our faults, and learn that our character defects and defenses are not our identity.  We can listen to what feels real and strikes a resonant chord within us, and let this remind us of and lead us to our true self.

Because we are creatures of habit we need to avoid toxic people, experiences and environments and remain close to our recovery foundation, until our new internal reality feels strong and comfortable.  We need to practice appropriate ways to address and respond to stimuli that formerly triggered unhealthy behavior, while we have surrounding support to reinforce us.

When we respond assertively, with the sole intent to protect our sobriety and recovery, instead of passive or aggressive reactions, there is no negative energy.  We are only speaking for what works for us, and what doesn’t, and we accept that each of us is given the free will to do the same.

When we understand that past trauma is not re-occurring in our life of recovery, and that current events are only reminding us of it, we can practice healthy adult responses to these situations.  We can furthermore be grateful for our present safety, sanity, support, understanding, and for our opportunity to heal.

Healthy children love to learn new things and practice new behaviors.  When we become unhealthy, we acquire rigidity, arrogance, self-righteousness, intolerance, impatience and rebelliousness.  These are all fear based character defects.  Adults who are healing develop open-mindedness, humility, sensitivity, respect, understanding, patience and cooperation.  Spiritual growth incorporates all that we experience as a means to enlightenment.  We call positive events blessings, and we will do well to remember that negative events hold lessons leading to even greater blessings.

Mary Cook is the author of Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions and Compulsions to Satisfaction and Serenity.  She has 34 years of clinical practice and 29 years of university teaching experience and is available for counseling, guided meditation, speaking engagements and in-service training.  Contact her by email and visit her website. Read Mary’s previous articles for Soul’s Code, The pain and pleasure of living in the moment and Freeing your inner slave.

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One Comment on “Facing the void after addiction”

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights, Mary. "Adults who are healing develop open-mindedness, humility, sensitivity, respect, understanding, patience and cooperation" is a powerful reminder. If I'm on a journey, I can expect bumps in the road, and I get to choose the reactions I share with the world.

    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

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