What Constitutes Contented Sobriety?

Hello and welcome to the fall edition of Emotional Sobriety Matters. I hope you all enjoyed our beautiful summer and that you took time to relax and enjoy yourself. I particularly love the long days – as I feel like I can get so many things done in the daylight – walk the dogs, garden, meet with friends, play on the beach. Summer is really my favorite season! As the days shorten and the weather begins to cool down, I find myself thinking of indoor tasks – like writing this newsletter. I would like to take the time to discuss with you some ideas about contented (happy) sobriety and the research that supports success in this area.

What Constitutes Contented Sobriety?

Anyone can stop drinking or drugging – staying stopped and having some emotional balance in the process is another thing. According to Dr. Allen Berger, recovery has three phases:
1. getting clean
2. staying clean
3. living clean

Getting Clean

Many people struggle with phase one as they trip over the denial that tells them their problem really isn’t “that bad”. That is the ‘obsession’ referred to in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. Back in 1935, ‘obsession’ was used by Dr. Silkworth to refer to “the lie” that crowds out all rational thought about why the alcoholic cannot safely drink. The lie may sound like, “I’m just going through a rough time”, “I’m only going to have one” “This time it will be different.” “My problem is that I’m out of shape and need to go to the gym every day”; or “I just need to make more money and then I’ll be fine.” None of these statements correlate with the reality of the addict/alcoholic’s life, especially near the end of her addictive use. There is a quick test you can administer yourself if you are wondering whether or not you are alcoholic or drug addicted. It’s called the Cage and includes 4 quick questions:
1. Have you ever tried to Cut back on your drinking/drugging?
2. Have you ever been Annoyed by others’ comments about your drinking/drugging?
3. Have you ever felt Guilty about your behavior while drinking/drugging?
4. Have you ever needed an Eye opener the day after drinking or to ease the effects of a hangover?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any one of these you have an 80% chance of being addicted
If you answer ‘yes’ to any two of these you have an 89% chance of being addicted
If you answer ‘yes to any three of these you have a 98% chance of being addicted.
And, if you answer ‘yes’ to all the above, you are 100% addicted.

Seeing the ‘facts’ in front of us, in black and white, can help break through our denial. From there we can make the surrender necessary to begin our journey to contented sobriety.

Staying Clean

As I mentioned earlier – staying stopped can be a problem – when the obsession to use a substance or behavior is all powerful. As Mark Twain said, “I have found stopping smoking so easy that I’ve done it twenty times.” Most alcoholics or addicts can’t stand to ask for help, and prefer to do life alone (sometimes dying alone). It seems to many a sign of weakness. So, instead he goes about his life, attempting to construct a plan – in a keen, intellectual way – to solve his own dilemma. What’s wrong with this, you may ask. Well, while you may be very bright with regards to other areas of your life, when it comes to your addiction, there is a default in the system. It’s like an engine that is misfiring – you can keep driving the car a little slower, or only on Sundays, or just downhill, hoping the problem will improve, or you can take the car to your mechanic and get the spark plugs changed. If you can’t solve your addiction problem on your own by changing the type of drink or the day you drink or the time you get high – what do you do? For a lot of people, the first step in recovery is attending a support group, where you can learn from others like you, how to stay clean and sober.

I heard one of the greatest scientific talks on the success of Alcoholics Anonymous by a renowned psychiatrist named Dr. George Valliant. He is not an alcoholic but has studied the issue much of his very long and distinguished career and has written a book called, “The Natural History of Alcoholism –Revisited”. His findings state that AA is the most successful approach in producing long-term contented sobriety because it contains the four necessary factors present in relapse prevention from most addictions, such as smoking, compulsive eating, opiate addiction, gambling or alcoholism. The four factors necessary for relapse are:

  1. External Supervision: AA provides this service much the same way that a personal trainer would – motivation comes from an external source and individuals must return again and again. Going to meetings, talking to sponsors and friends and working the steps all provide a continuous reminder of the problem that brought them to recovery. This can be as difficult as trying to train an alligator. Since addiction resides in the ‘reptilian’ part of the brain, which is reflective in nature and doesn’t like to be told what to do, attempting to coax an addict or alcoholic to change is about as simple as trying to train an alligator to ‘come’. As the saying goes, “You can tell an alcoholic, you just can’t tell her much”. Her addiction is impulsive, aggressive and resistant to change. This is why AA also understands that the individual must ‘want’ it, or it won’t work. You will suffer under a strict fitness trainer if you want the physical change, and you will do what your sponsor suggests if you want the emotional and spiritual change you see in him/her.
  2. Substitute Dependency: It’s a simple fact that all bad habits need adequate substitutes or significant competing behaviors. Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, stated that alcoholics need a solution that has “depth and weight”. In other words, it is highly unlikely that someone can substitute their addiction with cross-stitch or model-building. Just keeping busy doesn’t seem to be enough, nor does locking a person up cure her from her addiction. According to Dr. Valliant, AA provides “…a gratifying schedule of social and service activities in the presence of supportive and now-healed alcoholics, especially at times of high risk, like holidays”. The time that was spent drinking or drugging is now spent learning, growing and helping others.
  3. New Love Relationships: We never outgrow our need for bonding and attachment. The problem with many addicts and alcoholics is that most close relationships have been compromised or destroyed. There is much guilt about how to right these circumstances and a general lack of skill in how to create and maintain healthy relationships. In AA, there is an immediate community available for bonding with that consists of people the alcoholic has no history of hurting. It’s like starting anew. Friendships can be made and fostered based on good feelings, rather than on guilt and shame. In addition, there are those present that can be actively helped and this creates a feeling of usefulness that fosters good self esteem. This is so significant to the emotional healing needed to provide hope, love and charity to a life that was wanting in all these areas.
  4. Spirituality: While this is the most controversial part of the AA program, it also seems to be absolutely necessary to long-term contentment during abstinence. The most important distinction is that between religion and spirituality – the former being rigid and dogmatic, the latter being expansive and open-minded. It is the qualities of inspiration to be all you can be, the hope of a better future, and the love of others who truly care for your wellbeing, the selflessness, honesty, and goodwill that characterize a spiritual way of life. AA contains all of these. AA is not a cult, even though some people think so and it is externally similar in that it is “characterized by a high level of social cohesion, has an intensely held belief system and a profound influence on its members’ behavior”. According to Dr. Valliant, one important difference between AA and a cult is that the purpose of AA’s 12 steps is not to take away a person’s autonomy, but to provide a disciplined set of ‘suggestions’ so that you won’t relapse and die. No one will tell you what you need to believe in, just that you be willing to believe in something greater than “you”.

Living Clean

There doesn’t seem to be any negative side effects to participating in a 12 step support group. Any dependency that may occur is a healthy dependency. Some dependencies weaken us and others strengthen us. Research has shown that the combination of 12 step recovery and psychotherapy results in the greatest success. Often, the years of addiction have resulted in a great amount of trauma and loss that can be discussed and worked through in therapy. In addition, many turn to addictive lifestyles as a result of early trauma and loss, which can be integrated as well. In 12 step support groups, members discuss their lives ‘in a general way’. However, in therapy, you have the confidential setting designed to resolve, in a very specific way, the issues that underlie your addiction. The end result is one of emotional sobriety, practiced one day at a time, with a formula that guarantees success.

Until next time,

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.

Christmas Shopping

With the upcoming holiday season around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts around spending habits and our relationship to money. Christmas is a time of year when many of us can feel pressured to provide and ‘prove’ our worth in a strictly material way. Don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving. In fact, I feel that it is an inherent part of our well-being. The act of both giving and receiving connects us to one another in a deep and meaningful way. However, it is important that we know both when and how to give, and that we are aware of our motives behind our giving. While there are so many ways that we can give – our time, our concern, our understanding – during the holiday season we often link our giving to a tangible gift. When sorting out healthy from unhealthy giving, you may wonder: Am I giving as a true expression of my carin g or out of obligation? Am I giving to impress someone so they will think more of me? Can I afford this gift or will it create financial strain in my life? Do I believe the value of the gift equals the amount of love I have for that person?

These important questions can help us understand our spending at a deeper level. When examining your spending habits, I believe it is important to reflect on what you learned growing up. Did your family celebrate birthdays and holidays by lavishing expensive gifts on others? Or were there scarce resources – both emotionally and financially – that meant that special occasions went unnoticed? Or was your family practical, spending within their means and providing the more important gifts of love and positive regard throughout the year. What we learn early on can set in motion powerful patterns in our lives that continue to unconsciously replay themselves. I know that when I was growing up there was a lot of competition for scarce emotional and financial resources. My mother lived on credit and spending was undoubtedly a way that she could make herself feel better. It seemed every time we turned around she w as buying more furniture! To her things represented status – it was important to “look good” in order to “feel good”. For much of my adult life it was ‘normal’ for me to be living on credit. When I didn’t have enough money to buy what I wanted, I would borrow it – from the bank, from family or friends. While it was extremely stressful, it was the only template I had for managing my money (or more accurately – other’s money). The way we relate to money can tell us a lot about our values, priorities and our sense of security.

Julia Cameron & Mark Bryan’s book “Money Drunk, Money Sober: 90 Days to Financial Freedom” is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about their money patterns and how to grow toward financial solvency. They state that for alcoholics and addicts, money is often the last frontier of change and I’d like to share in this newsletter some of the knowledge they provide. When we are out of balance with our spending or our relationship to money, we can be “money drunk”. In other words, we use money, much like we would use alcohol or drugs or the internet, to soothe our uncomfortable feelings. Just as there are many types of alcoholic drinking patterns, there are different spending patterns.

The Compulsive Spender

“When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping” is an expression that fits this type of spender. Under stress, shopping relieves anxiety and provides a temporary ‘high’ in the form of new things. According to Cameron & Bryan, more than any other form of money addiction, the need for compulsive spending is easily viewed as an attempt to block feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. It is also a way to avoid feeling ashamed. If I can buy something when I want it, rather than feel powerless, I can feel powerful; rather than feel less-than I can feel better-than. I can feel more beautiful, sophisticated and ‘cool’. I can walk away – for the moment – from any discomfort arising inside me that indicates ‘I’m not good enough, smart enough or rich enough’. Many compulsive spenders are more comfortable with crisis management, finding the calm of ordinary life “boring”. Unfortunately, the lie that the credit card debt – on all the cards – ‘is no big deal’ continues to fuel an inner state of stress that takes its toll on individual health and well-being. All addiction is fueled by a lie. It is only when we are able and willing to face the truth that we can find a way out. In order for compulsive spenders to recover they must begin to make the emotional links to their spending and commit to healing uncomfortable states rather than medicating through buying.

  • Do you impulsively buy things you don’t need or can’t afford?
  • Do you shop to alter your moods?
  • Do you play credit card roulette, filling up one and then moving on to another?
  • Do you worry more about having money to spend than how to make it?

If so, you may be a compulsive spender.

The Big Deal Chaser

Just as the drink is the solution for the alcoholic’s problems, The Big Deal Chaser believes that “this is the one” that’s going to make them rich and famous. This is a person driven by grandiosity, unable to see the wreckage they are creating in the futile attempt to “win big”. The motive underlying their desperation is the lie that they can avoid the normal experiences of emotional discomfort and insecurity. Cameron & Bryan believe it is one of the most difficult belief systems to change. It looks like ambition, but is often an addiction to revenge: “I’ll show them”.

Most Big Deal Chasers have a “magic number” – the amount that they need to make everything alright. It becomes their ‘obsession’. Needless to say, our society encourages money addiction – from government run casinos to lotto commercials about the lavish lifestyle awaiting you should you be the next winner.

There is also another, more subtle deal chaser – the workaholic. Working longer and longer hours, at the expense of family and friends; refusing to take vacations because they “can’t afford it” and generally fuelling all of their resources into their job, these money drunks hope that one day the pay off will be love and recognition. The problem is that self esteem cannot be garnered from external sources and most people I’ve know that have attempted this, cannot take in the positive strokes they receive because deep down inside they don’t believe it. In recovery, the ‘ waiting ‘ to get happiness from the quick fix has to stop and finding fulfillment in the present moment must begin, where whatever you have right now is ‘enough’.

  • Do you have a magic number and has it gone up?
  • Does your lucky break have to be “sudden” and “huge” and “impressive”?
  • Does it cost you more to live than you make?
  • Do friends, family or co-workers tease you about the amount of time you spend at work?

If so, you may be a big deal chaser.

The Maintenance Money Drunk

Like the maintenance alcoholic, this type of money drunk is the most subtle and hard to recognize. This individual does a job because it pays the bills. While they appear to be responsible, they are not psychologically present as they grow more bitter or numb from the inability to pursue or even name their own desires. It is the life of quiet desperation, wishing endlessly for things they never take action towards attaining. Instead, they tune out in front of the TV, night after night, tuning out the internal dialogue that whispers discontent. There is a feeling of ‘giving up’ – of powerlessness that can only be medicated by chronic dreaming. The ‘lie’ they pursue is that “next year” I’ll get a better job; I’ll start that course; I’ll go on that vacation….These money drunks are mad as hell underneath and in recovery must fuel that anger from passivity towards positive action.

  • Is the pay the only thing I like about my job?
  • Does my work conflict with my value system?
  • Do I make “home improvements” rather than “life improvements”?
  • Do I feel stuck?
  • Do I frequently abort plans for new projects?
  • Do I often complain about what I might have been?

If some of these are true for you, you may be maintenance money drunk.

The Poverty Addict

With the poverty addict, money is shameful. There is an addiction to self-deprivation which leads to a sense of self-righteousness or a feeling of being virtuous due to the frugal nature of your ways. Many times, this can result from a misinterpretation of spiritual or religious beliefs, where poverty means goodness. It can come from being rewarded early on in life for not needing anything and therefore not putting any additional strain on parents who are already overwhelmed. There is a constant sense of a lack of money and the continual worry and constant complaints that go along with it. The behaviors of a poverty addict reinforce this state – working overtime and not logging it, undercharging for services rendered, giving away what you have and basically, bending over backwards to give others whatever they want, without any expectation of being compensated accordingly. And while there may exist an exterior façade of moral superiority, underlying this is a deep sense of scarcity and low self-worth. The way out is to begin to undo your “financial anorexia” by learning how to give to yourself in a reasonable and satisfying way.

  • Do you think there is some virtue in being poor?
  • Do you forget to collect the monies owed to you?
  • When you have more money, do you spend it on other people instead of yourself?
  • Do you underprice your skills or feel guilty about asking people to pay you for your work?

These are just a few questions to ask yourself if you believe you may be a poverty addict.

The Cash Co-Dependent

This is the person who finds herself paying for the extravagances of her money drunk partner. She supplies the money to finance someone else’s big deal chases or compulsive spending. She goes along to get along – sometimes buying into the scheme – thereby enabling the behavior to continue. She is under the mistaken belief – or lie – that her money equals her love. A cash co-dependent has no problem saying no to his own spending – he runs into trouble saying no to her spending. Often, he will get a sense of superiority from this – treating his partner as a child who needs to be taken care of. In reality, it is he who needs to learn self-care.

Cash codependents can be manipulative – rewarding good behavior with a ‘gift’ to soothe the other. They can offer to pay for things that they think the other would benefit from, rather than focusing on their own wants and needs. Recovery involves the ‘selfish’ pursuit of choosing to put their financial needs first and learning how to say ‘no’ to financial caretaking. In this way, self worth can begin to grow as the bitterness and cynicism are healed.

  • Are you afraid to say no to your partner about money?
  • Do you feel you have to baby-sit his or her spending?
  • Do you often complain to friends or family about your partner’s money habits?
  • Do you worry about how to protect your own assets in your relationship?
  • Do you lie to your partner and tell him or her you have less money than you do?

If any of these fit for you, you may be a cash co-dependent.

Increasing Awareness

The point of summarizing and sharing this information with you is to help bring awareness to how you handle your money during the holiday season. If you could identify with any of this information, you probably understand that money is often used for more than just paying bills – and buying appropriate gifts with what is left. Instead it represents the way to fill our lives with happiness. Like all addictions, money addiction is progressive and has its roots in self-esteem issues. Like all addictions, the solution lies in both abstinence from the behaviors while resolving the underlying emotional issues. The good news, is that all learned behavior can be replaced with new, healthier ways of responding that foster well-being and happiness.

Tracking Holiday Money Habits

Pay attention to your spending over the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Identify the two types that most describe you (for a deeper understanding of the types and the solution, please read Money Drunk, Money Sober, 90 days to financial freedom by Julia Cameron & Mark Bryan). Write about your relationship to money and how you notice you ‘use’ money to help manage emotional discomfort. Keep a journal and write down your feelings associated with your spending. By doing these simply things, you will have begun your journey to recovery from money addiction.

Remember: Giving is not the issue – appropriate giving is an essential part of a well-balanced life. The goal in emotional sobriety is to be financially solvent. Cameron & Bryan define this as a feeling of being comfortable with money – not anxious about it, and not careless with it, either. It is a confident feeling of being prepared for anything life presents us with, of living within our means at all times. With this in mind, you have some new tools for approaching your spending during this holiday season.

Warm wishes for a financially solvent holiday,

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

I wanted to thank those of you who gave me feedback about the first newsletter. I’m happy to hear that you found it both timely and useful. I hope this continues to be the case. Today, I’d like to share about a wonderful event I attended recently, as well as continue to explore the qualities of emotional sobriety. In particular in this issue, I’d like to explore the quality of spiritual connectedness. This seems to me to be apropos of this time of year – the “spirit” of the Holiday Season.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

Let me start by telling you about a talk I attended by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I’m sure many of you have heard about him or even read one of his many books. His last book is titled: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.
I found him to be very inspiring and his spiritual message to be timeless. I also loved hearing him say how proud he is to be 20 ½ years sober, one day at a time. He has had what many of us would consider a very difficult early life. His father was alcoholic and abandoned his mother shortly after he was born. There were a lot of children and his mother placed him and his brother in an orphanage, where he was to spend his first 10 years. Although he was angry at his father for a very long time, he has come to realize that this experience was essential on his journey to becoming who he is today. He has no regrets or any bitterness. He sobered up at 47 years old. Since then, he has gone on to be a very influential source of spiritual knowledge in the West. His wisdom comes from his teachers who have been realized masters from the East.

Toxic Thinking

Dr. Dyer’s main message is a familiar one to many of us. It is simply that we are spiritual beings first having a human experience, and not human beings who are trying to have a spiritual experience. That may sound like semantics at first glance, but it is much deeper than just a rearranging of words. Wayne talked about the negative impact of early internalized thoughts, which interfere with our knowing this essential truth about ourselves. This is the focus of his new book, “Excuses No More”, which will be released in May 2009. He calls these conditioned beliefs ‘memes’, which the dictionary defines as: “a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes”.

I know that I fueled much of my life on these harmful messages acquired in a family environment that was defined by negativity. Some examples of these messages might include, “you’re not good enough”; “no one likes you”; “quit trying to be a big shot;”, “you’re too much to handle”, to name a few. These undermining unconscious messages often come from well-meaning parents and teachers, who are simply passing on what they learned. Unfortunately, if we don’t recognize their toxicity, and work on changing how we think and feel about ourselves and the world, it will keep us from fully realizing all that we truly are.

Overcoming Negativity

What I find hopeful is that many more people today are waking up to the fact that we can be the authors of a new generation of memes. It is when we make a conscious effort to change our negative self talk into a powerful and loving care for ourselves, that the Flow of Universal Intelligence can guide our lives. This means that our responsibility is to reduce the toxicity that we continue to fuel in ourselves by believing and perpetuating the ideas that destroy happiness. This does not mean suppressing our truth.

One of the qualities of emotional sobriety I discussed last month was the ability to communicate and define who you are to others. This means truthful expression of feelings, thoughts, desires, dreams, etc. Denial is not conducive to healing. In fact, we must fully feel in order to be present and awakened. Real spiritual growth comes when we are able to accept what we are experiencing – not push it away or judge it as “bad” or “wrong” – as an expression of the “divine.” The transformation to a deeper connection with life occurs through the love and the care we provide ourselves as we give permission to reconnect with split off parts of ourselves and allow others to witness our vulnerability and support us through the process.

Increasing “Ahimsa”

There a Buddhist and Hindu doctrine – “Ahimsa” – which expresses belief in the sacredness of all living creatures and that urges the avoidance of harm and violence. I love this word – the way it sounds – and I love the idea of non-violence, beginning with ourselves. The Dalai Lama recently claimed that if every child on the planet was encouraged to meditate for one hour a week, we could completely end violence on earth in one generation. So, since each of us was once a child, who has most likely experienced or witnessed violence in some form or another, maybe we could all do our part by meditating at least one hour a week on the principle of Ahimsa.
In doing this, we create an opporunity to bring awareness to the ‘memes’ that we carry that are toxic to our well being. Start by noticing two or three main messages that you say to yourself (especially under times of stress), that are damaging, disparaging or outright acts of violence toward yourself. Some examples might include, “why are you so stupid?” or “don’t be such a wimp.” As you notice them, gently say to yourself, “I’m choosing to practice Ahimsa (non-violence with myself) in this moment.” Then replace this negative self-statement with something positive or neutral like, “I’m doing the best I can,” “Everyone makes mistakes”, or “It’s okay to be human.” This simple concept of Ahimsa can become an ongoing resource, helping you to transform the toxicity you inherited to a more peaceful, spiritual relationship with yourself.

Peace in Practice

As you involve yourself in the cultural or religious Holiday festivities of your choice, set a goal to practice Peace with yourself. This is especially important if you are feeling lonely, sad or disconnected. Acknowledge your feelings, and ask yourself what you can do to make it a little easier, a little more joyful for yourself. Reach out for support – or do something fun, like ice-skating, tobogganing or watching a funny movie. By giving to yourself you can, in a very practical way, remember that you are a spiritual being having a human experience, and while having a human experience can certainly be challenging at times, it can be more successfully navigated with a committment of compassionate caring toward ourselves and our fellows.
Wishing you much peace through the holiday season.

Until next year,

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.

Developing Spirituality For Trauma Survivors – Part 1

I’m passing along some interesting thoughts I recently heard in a teleseminar on Spirituality with Joan Borysenko, along with my own ideas on the subject. Spirituality is a part of our make up, but it is often obscured by painful events in our lives, remaining undeveloped.

In my own case, growing up in a violent, alcoholic family was confusing and painful and I just couldn’t make sense of anything. I was asking some pretty big questions from a very early age.

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why was I born?
  • What is the point of life?
  • Is there a God?

 

With little guidance, questions like these can become a life-long search into the vast unknown. As time went on, my questions changed to, “Why does God make me suffer like this?” or “Why was I born into this family?” Without guidance, it can lead to a sense of despair, depression and substance abuse. But the worst thing that can happen to any of us, is a turning away from the part of ourselves that is longing for a connection to something greater.

LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

When life is difficult, individuals can develop what Martin Seligman calls a “pessimistic and helpless” explanatory style. In other words, you come to explain the world and your place in it from a very negative and powerless vantage point. It is the polar opposite of spiritual development. This ‘style’ begins to define the self because:

  • it’s Personal – “it’s my fault”
  • it’s Pervasive – “I’ve messed up everything”; and
  • it’s Permanent – “it will never go away; it’s the story of my life”.

When I began my undergraduate degree in Psychology, I was inexplicably drawn to learning Seligman’s theory of “Learned Helplessness”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I felt compelled because I had it. I had given up on the idea that I could affect any positive change in my environment. At the same time, I blamed myself for everything ‘bad’ that was happening around me. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. But for many of my clients, this is all too often a huge stumbling block.

It’s true that we all lose track of who we are to some degree, whether we grew up in a relatively good home or not. There is an innate drive to please others, to be accepted and loved, and these drives tempt us to be and do things that are not necessarily the clearest reflection of our true selves. We will do what we have to do to survive and stay connected to those closest to us. We can be proud of that. And when we are ready to move beyond survival to a ‘life worth living’, we begin our journey to a deeper, more spiritual understanding of ourselves, beyond what we have endured – and because of what we have endured.

TRANSFORMATION

When we begin in therapy or recovery, the journey we embark on is a process of transformation. We are letting go of the old self – the false self (the angry, frightened, isolated self), and becoming our new – and true selves. There are 3 basic stages to the transformation process – representing a beginning, a middle and an end.

  • Separation: from what was (known)
  • Luminality: not yet new, but not the old
  • Reintegration: coming back to the new

Once you start the process, you can’t go back to what you were. Once you decide to leave the old, living in the limbo of ‘in between – not yet’ – can be a real challenge. It can be an anxiety-provoking, especially if you have survived a hard life by attempting to be in control of everything around and within you. As Carolyn Myss says, “Surrender is not about giving up, it is an acceptance that you are not in control of the major events in your life, good and bad.” So, in order for you to change – you must surrender – engage in an ongoing, repetitive acceptance of what is beyond your control. Change takes time – you cannot rush to the safety of the new known – it must unfold in its’ own time. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it is a process – and you’re in it – and you will move through it, with the help of others and your own inner resiliency. The most important thing to remember is don’t give up.

RESILIENCY

Resilience has the following properties:

  1. The ability to face what is happening – called REALISM. If you are leaving a job, have a plan for how you will support yourself in the meantime. (In a storm, a realist will adjust her sails and an optimist will hope for the wind to change.)
  2. Making meaning of life – called FAITH.
  3. Being inquisitive about what is happening to you and others around you, including the world – and being open to new ideas and conflicting views – called MINDFUL CURIOSITY.
  4. Connecting with others who can support you in your transformation process – called SOCIAL SUPPORT. Having a sense of building a ‘community’ of like-minded people. Some even think about creating a new ‘family’ that is loving and caring.
  5. The ability to laugh at life and the flexibility to change ourse when needed – A SENSE OF HUMOR AND APPRECIATION OF THE ABSURD. It is a great sign of growth when we can begin to laugh at ourselves and some of the situations we create or end up in.

MOVING FROM HELPLESSNESS TO HOPE – DEFINING SPIRITUALITY

When we move toward answering the big questions in life, we are developing our spiritual selves. Spirituality is not a belief system. It doesn’t matter what we believe in, or what we chose to call It. All roads up the mountain lead to the same place. I love the definition by George Valliant that spirituality is a constellation of positive qualities which include;

  • Gratitude
  • Equanimity
  • Awe/wonder
  • Joy
  • Hope
  • Compassion
  • Love

EXERCISE FOR DEVELOPING GRATITUDE

Here is an interesting twist on the conventional gratitude exercise. Chose one thing every night that you can be grateful for before going to sleep. Here is the twist: it has to be something you have never thought of before. It’s totally new. It forces you to pay attention to your life – to be mindful – so you can notice what is happening or what you are aware of that you can later give thanks for. Try it as an experiment for 30 days and see what you notice. I’d love to hear from you.

In the following newsletter, I will elaborate on these qualities and provide some exercises for developing these aspects of your spiritual self. The next newsletter will explore the topic of forgiveness.

Until next time, I wish you all the best on your journey through life.

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.

Developing Spirituality For Trauma Survivors – Part

In my last newsletter, I gave you some ideas about defining yourself and your spirituality, I mentioned the 8 positive qualities that Dr. George Valliant states make up an internal state that we can think of as “spiritual”. These spiritual qualities are: gratitude, equanimity, awe/wonder, joy, compassion, love & forgiveness. While last month we discussed a new twist on a traditional gratitude exercise, this month, I wanted to explore the concept of forgiveness and the role it plays in your emotional sobriety.

The Importance of Forgiveness

The concept of forgiveness is a good one and yet the practice of it is not easy for most of us. It is a crucial part of a good recovery plan and one that will ultimately lead to more peace of mind and better relationships. Let’s begin with the definition that forgiveness is “to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies”. Since resentments are “the number one offender” for risk of relapse, then clearly, there is a sort of urgency about getting the idea of forgiveness translated into everyday behavior.

What Forgiveness Is And What It Is Not

The struggle many people have with forgiveness stems from a false belief that by forgiving, it gives a free ride to the offender. That is not true. What forgiveness does is set us free – it is an act of liberation of the self. Forgiveness is, first and foremost, a shift in consciousness. This shift has a huge impact on our well being. We cannot stay ‘stuck’ in hurt and quietly resent the offending party without it having a negative impact on our emotional, psychological and physical health. In fact, there is enormous medical evidence that indicates holding a grudge is a source of chronic stress and leads to increasing rates of cardio-vascular and gastro-intestinal problems. There is a saying that the alcoholic who drinks because they’re angry at someone with the attitude of “I’ll show you”, is “drinking poison and hoping someone else will die”. No one else is as damaged by our unresolved hurt and anger as we are.

Self – Forgiveness

I’m a big believer that we need to practice what we preach. If we can begin to soften the harsh critic within ourselves and be more forgiving of our own shortcomings – than we can feel that way towards others as well.

In a research study of women who had recently left abusive relationships who were given either forgiveness training or assertiveness training, which group do you think did better? Yes, you guessed it! The group who were given forgiveness training did much better – they had less PTSD, and did better physically and emotionally and were more motivated to make positive change in their lives.

STEPS IN THE FORGIVENESS PROCESS

So, how do we learn to forgive – ourselves and others?

1. Be honest about the toll that the grudge you are holding on to is having on you. How much time does it consume? How much sleep do you lose? How much extra food do you eat or deny yourself? Acknowledge you’re angry. Learn ways to express this anger in non-harmful ways. You can write a letter to someone you are angry at that you will never send. Say everything that comes to mind – do not censor yourself – get it all off your chest. Then destroy the letter.

2. Ask yourself about your grievance story? What do you tell yourself over and over again that keeps you in a victim mode? Being a victim means believing there is nothing you can do to affect a change in your life. Write out your story and get as clear as you can about it. Know what it is that you say to yourself – make it conscious.

3. Change your story – from victim to victor. Instead of getting stuck in the idea of ‘bad luck’, begin to explore what positive things you have received from the most difficult experiences you are struggling with. You want to help yourself make the transformation from helplessness to someone who recognizes that bad things happen to good people and difficult situations can be overcome. Maybe you are more resilient, more compassionate or wiser because of what happened. Focus on that. Make a list of positive qualities, states of mind, and/or ideas that you have acquired as a result of the offence. Come to understand that you play a responsible part in your life story.

4. Work on the developing empathy and compassion for the person who harmed you. Alice Miller, a respected psychoanalyst said, “No one abuses who has not themselves been abused”. This is not to say that abuse is ok – far from it. In fact, if there is abuse, you need to find a way to keep yourself safe. It’s just that the majority of people who hurt others, were hurt in the same or similar ways. Visualize yourself triumphing over them and in your mind’s eye, see yourself cutting the cord of anger that keeps you attached to the offender. Let them go and free yourself.

5. Celebrate your courage in saving yourself from a life of misery and choosing instead to live a life of spirituality, filled with awe, wonder, joy, happiness and love.

Until next time, I wish you all the best on your journey through life.

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.