Tasks of Recovery

For the last 16 months I have worked as an AOD Counsellor (AOD stands for Alcohol and Other Drugs) and during this time I’ve come to notice certain reoccurring themes that keep presenting themselves in both my individual and group sessions.

I started to write these down and have come to a formative model of recovery which I liken to Kubler Ross’s stages of grief model (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Kubler Ross published a book in 1969 called On Death & Dying in which she described the common phases or stages that patients diagnosed with terminal illnesses went through after their diagnosis. The stages are not necessarily linear, however there does seem to be a process of change happening, and this is something I have also noticed in my work with those recovering from addiction. I am not talking about the well used Stages of Change model well used in AOD treatment services since its inception in 1983 by Prochaska & DiClemente, which identified that change is a process that individuals go through involving a series of stages or phases that ultimately lead to lasting change.

Like the stages of grief, the below themes are not in any particular order, except for the first one. In my observation, a true and real commitment beginning the process seems to be a first important step, as it is in the 12 step model:

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable.

Sometimes, it can take many attempts to even get this far. As with the 12 step model, often the first step towards change is often the biggest leap to take.

accomplishment action adult adventure
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Below are some of the themes or Tasks of Recovery as I have observed them. All the themes mentioned below need to be reckoned with at some point in the journey of recovery in order to get from the action stage to maintenance stage and towards real lasting change. I just want to say that it doesn’t matter what your addiction is, alcohol, drugs, porn or gambling, the following themes I think are universal and can be used alongside other therapy models often used in addiction treatment such as CBT or Motivational Interviewing. The following themes also feature heavily in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy so those of you who are familiar with ACT may recognize some of the concepts.

 

Commitment 

Decide that you want to make a change and commit to doing whatever it takes to staying on track. Russell Harris, author of The Happiness Trap has a great quote on commitment that I love. It really embodies a mindful, compassionate stance on recovery:

Commitment doesn’t mean you never make a wrong move or take a detour, and it doesn’t mean you stay on track 100% of the time; that’s unrealistic. It means even when you keep going off-course, you keep catching yourself and then getting back on track again

Connect with your values, meaning, purpose and spirituality. Use this self-knowledge to empower and motivate you to make the best decisions you can make, starting from now, that will help you to create a future now that is better than your past. Better doesn’t mean perfect, but better as in more real, honest, richer, meaningful and more colourful. A future present that contains more contentment, joy and inner peace.

Acceptance

Acceptance of the past and present means accept what has already happened. Doesn’t mean you like it or approve of it or wanted it to happen. Accept your current situation. Doesn’t mean you like it either or want it to be this way. However, struggling with non-acceptance of past and present is a futile exercise. It is a waste of time and energy which could be better used elsewhere. Don’t let your past dictate your future. This is what happens when you refuse to accept reality or practice avoidance. You are destined to repeat past mistakes. Acceptance releases you from this repetitive pattern. Acceptance means just “dropping the struggle“. This frees you to direct your attention and energy into doing what you need to do, in order to improve your life.

Lying & Honesty

Address lying and practice honesty in everything you do. Stop lying to yourself and others. Start speaking your truth, in a compassionate way. Be authentic, transparent and congruent. Make your word your bond. Turn up on time for appointments. Don’t say yes to something unless you are really intending to follow through. Don’t hide how you feel. Pick one person besides yourself that you can be 100% honest with. This can be a therapist, friend, partner or priest! Doesn’t matter who as long as it is someone trustworthy. Embrace the truth, it may not always be pretty but it really will set you free.

However, learning to be honest with yourself and others can be difficult if you are not used to it. Here is a simple strategy for practicing honesty which I call NOTE.

N – notice your thoughts and feelings. Take a breath and just sit with whatever is going on for you at that moment.

O – own it. Own your experience, don’t try to rationalize with yourself, or judge your feelings as right or wrong, good or bad. Just acknowledge that this is how you are feeling at the time.

T – take a breath. Take at lease one deep breath in and let it out. This allows your emotions (or energy in motion) to settle.

E – explain your reality. Start speaking. You will be surprised at how much easier it is to speak openly and honestly when you have given yourself a moment to check in first.

Forgiveness & Compassion

Forgive others for what they had done wrong to you. Forgive yourself for things that you have done. Simple as that. Like acceptance however, it does not mean that you are O.K. with it or like it. Doesn’t mean you approve of what was done, however, forgiveness is essentially a selfish act. Forgiveness frees you from negativity and resentment. Resentment is the cause of most dis-ease according to Louise Hay. Release resentment and be free of negativity. You will feel lighter and more at ease. Forgiveness is necessary if you are going to practice self-acceptance and love. There is no love without forgiveness. To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Guilt & Shame

Own up to any wrongs you have committed in the service of your addiction and address any lingering shame. It’s important to look at shame as a relapse prevention strategy as it is the most likely cause of lapses and relapse. Shame operates like an invisible suit of armour that keeps us safe yet apart from others. Shame keeps us from making real connections with people who might otherwise love and accept us. It is really important to separate guilt from shame. Guilt is feeling bad because of what you have done. Shame is feeling like you are bad. Remember, we are not our mistakes. It is important to address guilt, make amends if you have to (unless to do so would cause further harm) but remind yourself that you are always only ever doing the best you can with what you have at the time. In the past, you did not know this. Now you do. 

 

That’s all I have come up with for now. If anyone has some others that they think I have left out or any feedback relating to the above please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear it!

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Revisiting Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability

This morning I felt in necessary for some weird reason to re-visit Brene` Brown’s now infamous talk, The Power of Vulnerability. I first watched it during a week long Counsellor Development Workshop (almost a year ago now) and remember being moved by it then, but I also remember thinking….wow, it took 6 years of research to work out that out? It took 6 years to figure out that you cannot receive the love and connection you want without first allowing yourself to be at risk of losing that love?  But as the talk progresses and Brene` shows her own vulnerability, (which let me tell you is often synonymous with allowing others to see your own faults) you can see why this was the case. Brene` was herself absolutely petrified of being vulnerable. A self confessed control freak that wanted to measure everything, break it down, crack it open and basically, control everything found out, through her own scientific research that basically, you can’t control anything. Not really. Life is not perfect.  To love is to embrace our limitations and imperfections – in ourselves and others. That is what it means to be whole hearted, to live with courage and authenticity. To really connect with others and to be loved as you are in return, imperfect, broken and scared as that may be.

So that being said, I still found myself taking notes because regardless of Brene` personal reaction to the data as she called it, this did not detract from the truth of what she has to say in any way. In-fact it, the hard evidence that her own research uncovered was the cause of her personal breakdown. Revolutions are seldom peaceful.

So, here are my notes from Brene’s “Vunerability Ted” talk – for my own benefit more than anything else, in point form none the less.

  • It starts with connection (or attachment if you like). The ability to connect it’s who we are, and why we are here.
  • Shame thwarts this ability to connect. Shame thwarts intimacy, closeness, love.
  • Shame is the fear of disconnection. “There is something about me that is so terrible that if anyone found this out, it would render me unworthy of love in their eyes.” Or to put it more simply, “I am not worthy of love and affection”.
  • Vulnerability – allowing  yourself to be seen, to be who you are, faults, imperfections, but still and completely lovable.
  • Vulnerability – loving something or someone else with all your heart even when you know there are no guarantees. (How terrifying is that! Pretty terrifying.)
  • The rub – People that have a lot of shame detest the feeling of being vulnerable. Vulnerable to what? Exposure, rejection, exclusion, disconnection. However, in order for connection to happen we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. (Sucks, doesn’t it.)
  • Brene’ really freaked out when she worked out, from all her painstaking hours of gathering qualitative data, that the one thing that separated ‘those’ people, the people who were able to love wholeheartedly and experience true joy, connection and love versus people who wore their shame like armour and therefor where unable to connect boiled down to this: a sense of worthiness.
  • People who have a sense of love, connection and belonging in their lives simply believe they are worthy of love, connection and belonging.
  • People who are able to love this way do so from a place of vulnerability. That is, they love even when they know that their love may not be returned, that love is not perfect, that life can throw you the most horrible curve-balls.
  • Vulnerability involves – Courage, Compassion, Connection.
    • Courage – the courage to be imperfect, to be as you are, to be authentic
    • Compassion – for yourself and then you are able to show kindness and compassion for others.
    • Connection – we arrive at true connection through authenticity. Letting go of who you should be, and embracing who you are.
  • Vulnerability involves risk. It’s saying, “I love you” first, it means possible heartbreak, rejection, loss. It is a form of surrender, allowing your feelings to just exist, to make no apologies for who you are, and for the fact that you feel shit. It involves exposure, being emotionally naked and present with all your glorious faults, mistakes, imperfections and darkness.
  • This next point deserves a block quote:

Our vulnerability lies at the core of our shame, fear and struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love and connection.

  • Why do we struggle so much with being vulnerable? Well the world is full of uncertainty. So we deal with this fear of uncertainty, (existentialism’s void) by numbing ourselves.
  • Rub number 2: You can’t selectively numb emotions. You can’t say, “See this bad stuff, fear, pain, shame, grief, disappointment… well I don’t want to feel that shit so I’m going to damp it down with this (insert numbing device of choice: needle, drink, food, porn, etc) because, when  you numb the bad stuff, you also numb other emotions as well: you numb joy, happiness, gratitude, connection etc.
  • Brene’s final words: We can’t make everything that is uncertain, certain. There are no guarantees, nothing is perfect, we can’t pretend that our feelings don’t exist and that what we do doesn’t affect other people. To love wholeheartedly is the only way to get the love we need. Here are her three suggestions:

Love with all your heart, even though there are no guarantees

Practice gratitude, joy and connection

Believe that  you are worthy of love, just the way you are