Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2004 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Until You Can Love Yourself
By Lawrence S. Freunclich
At our first AA meeting, many of us were so sick and hungover that the most we could hope for was to sit still for an hour without crying or throwing up. That last culminating drunk had wiped us out. We needed help, but we were as frightened of asking for it as we were of another drink. We huddled in against ourselves and tried to disappear. The friendly gestures and words of welcome sounded false to us, and we thought we were among naïve dogooders, or perhaps religious fanatics who had lost contact with reality. We felt we were special; and we were humiliated to be associated with a group of losers, who, unlike us, were just a bunch of common drunks. We felt we would never be able to make them understand what made our own stories so special. We didn't know where to rest our eyes or what to do with our hands. Each time someone shared, we took it personally, as if each remark were aimed directly at us. We wanted to interrupt to show how much we knew, of how different we were. We wanted everyone to understand how we had been wronged. Most of us, however, were too frail to speak.
During our first 30 days of meetings, if someone said how grateful she was for the peace and hope that sobriety had given her, we thought that only a person with a shallow understanding of life could be so easily sedated by the homilies of AA. If someone expressed his rage, we grew frightened, feeling as if his energy were somehow a direct personal threat to us. If someone told us how they got drunk at the business meeting, we belittled his exploits because we had done so much worse. If someone shared that she hated people who shared petty annoyances, we thought she was talking about us. If someone expressed her gratitude for having gone from bankruptcy to wealth, not only did we think her a braggart, but we felt the hot humiliation of our own awful financial desperation and how we had failed our loved ones. Some of us attended meetings and never raised our hand. Others of us, when we finally talked, couldn't shut up, as if we had to tell the world our whole story in one breath. No matter what we said, we felt that we had made fools of ourselves or, worse, that no one in the group could possibly understand us.
Yet we always felt like phonies. In this early stage of our AA solitary confinement, we were in the soul-mangling grip of what AA calls "self-centered fear." When we learned more about self-centered fear, we would hear ourselves described as "arrogant doormats" or "that piece of garbage around which the entire universe revolved." We felt that all eyes were on us, that we were in a play with a large cast - but the spotlight was on us only, and that the characters we were portraying were worthless and had to deny it. We were obsessed with people we despised, and those people were ourselves. As the weeks went by and somehow "we kept coming back" "one day at a time," because we had "smart feet" and went to meetings "even if our ass fell off," we recognized that not only did we have self-centered fear, but that every other addict in the room did as well.
Something startling - and for many of us, unprecedented - had been taking place. For the first time in many years, or perhaps for the first time in our entire lives, we had been learning to listen - learning to listen to something other than the voices in our own heads. We didn't know it, but our world was beginning to get a little larger. No cross talk! What a challenge. With listening came identification. With identification came emotional bonding; we came to see that the other addicts in the room had gone through the same kind of hell we had. They had gotten just as sick, lost just as much money, offended their loved ones, crashed cars, told embarrassingly bad lies and cursed God.
These commonalities began to fascinate us, and our attention was diverted from ourselves to others. We were becoming less self centered. As the reality and similarity of our colleagues sunk into our hearts and minds, we began to see that our stories were not unique and that other people could understand what we had been through. Even when a share made us angry or contemptuous, we sat still and let the person have his say. It was all right for them to show their imperfections; after all, they were only human. And if they were only human, it was easier to admit that we were only human. This was a spiritual breakthrough for us. Surrendering to the truth of our own humanity was a key spiritual gift. For us alcoholics, our imperfection had always been experienced as shame; it had made us allergic to our own humanity and forced us into emotional adaptations aimed at denying our imperfection.
Until that breakthrough moment in AA, we had never believed that anyone could love us if they knew the truth of who we were. "Hide that truth at any cost," our alcoholic brains screamed out to us. Drown it in booze and lies. Some of us mocked the homilies of AA that were tacked up on the walls of the meeting room, sayings like, "Stinkin" Thinkin,";" "Put a Plug in the Jug," "Let Go and Let God," and "We row; God steers." But even we mockers found our eyes continually drawn back to one motto, which never seemed to go stale. It was the sign that said, "We Will Love You Until You Can Love Yourself."
When we celebrated our 90 days, we felt blessed by what AA had so far done for us. We felt as if we had rejoined the community of man, and now we thought we understood what the old-timers were talking about when they said that AA "was a we program." We had a fledgling faith - or if it wasn't yet faith, we dared hope that the love of our fellow AAs could give us the self-esteem that our addiction had destroyed. If we kept coming to meetings, we would experience the loving that we were not yet capable of believing we deserved.
And, for many of us, the support of our AA colleagues kept us sober for years. We saw our lives improve. We saw that, if we stayed sober and practiced the principles of AA in all of our affairs, our relationships matured and we found the strength to survive the rough patches of life: things like losing our jobs, divorce and the refusal of the children we had abused to forgive us. We found the patience to deal with people at the job who annoyed us.
During our years in AA, many of our friends had gone back to drinking. Some died; some we never heard of again. Some came back into the room and reported that the hell in store for the recidivist was there for the taking. They added, "The misery is optional." Many of us believed what we had heard about the misery being optional. Despite the fact that we continued to go to meetings, we could feel, after 5, 10, 15 years, the alcoholic demons beginning to rise up within us again. We felt that the AA program had done us good, and we were grateful for it. But there were parts of us that remained in pain and refused to be medicated by the traditions, steps and people of AA. For us, the inevitable occurred. We joined the ranks of the slippers. And, sure enough, we discovered the misery we had been told awaited us.
As we began the arduous and humiliating process of "coming back" (and some of us would do it several times), some of us were overtaken by a sense of alcoholic doom. We became convinced that, even with AA's constant offer of forgiveness, understanding and guidance, that a part of us was too damaged to heal. Even if we couldn't be precise about it, the promise that "We will love you until you learn to love yourself" was for us a nice thought, but a beneficent fantasy.
What we did not know was that the abuse our caregivers had inflicted on us in childhood had so damaged our awareness of our inherent worth that any promise of love stirred up post traumatic associations. The promise that our colleagues in AA would love us until we learned to love ourselves was offered in tenderness and compassion, but we were hard-wired to reject it. It sounded to us just like our parents. People like us would slip and slide until they wound up where AA had predicted: in jail, dead or in a mental institution.
The only kind of love that was going to work for people like us needed to come from caregivers who were trained to discover the etiology of our abusive childhoods - and who, when our trauma histories were clear to us, could teach us the practice of boundaries so we could protect ourselves from the posttraumatic stress that triggered our alcoholism and relational dysfunction.
Our caregivers had to be healthy themselves. We would not be cured if they came at us from a position of superiority. That would plunge us back into childhood. To the extent that their own trauma histories escaped the containment of healthy boundaries, our caregivers would infect us with their own dysfunctions.
When people like us came to The Meadows, most of us desperate and without a clue that we had at last come home, we had no idea how lucky we were. We were finally at a place where we could love ourselves, and because we could, we also could love others. For those of us who still loved and valued AA, because we, at long last, had a spiritual awakening, we felt the personal responsibility to carry this message to the suffering alcoholic.
Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of MeadowLark, the alumni magazine of The Meadows.
Spirituality in Everyday Life
By John Bradshaw, MA
Recovery is about an awakening. We are literally awakened from a restless sleep that has numbed our feelings and left us emotionally and spiritually groggy and exhausted. This awakening begins with the eye-opening experience and recognition of our powerlessness - with recognition of our limitations and our need for help - and with the hard work of transforming our toxic shame into healthy shame. It is this healthy shame that is the source of our spirituality.
For many of you, this awakening began in earnest in a treatment center or program. The important work you have done involves freeing yourself from the bondage of the past. This bondage literally drags us out of the present. It distorts our perceptions. It blocks our feelings and keeps us constantly in fear of exposure. All of this serves to prevent us from recognizing one of our most important human limitations, which is simply that we exist only in the now, from moment to moment.
In the mystified and trance like state in which we lived before recovery, we could not be present in the moment, for each "now" was full of "then." Whether we were listening, observing, talking, or in any way experiencing life, we simply were not there. And so the quality of our life was diminished.
I look at old photos of family outings and realize that, much of the time, I was not there. I cannot ever get these moments back. They are gone. I missed them, and I am sad and angry about that. I don't want to miss any more of my life.
It frequently seems that our lives are made up of a series of events. Taken individually, these events appear insignificant. In the grandiosity of toxic shame, we discount and dismiss them without realizing that, no matter what success or failure occurs, these events will continue to be the core of our existence.
Gandhi said, "Almost everything we do is insignificant, but it is very important that we do it."
To be awake and fully conscious is to recognize that everything, from washing dishes to locking up the house at night, is important and demands attention. The move from toxic shame to healthy shame enlarges our opportunities for recognizing the significance of the insignificant.
In my view, spirituality is a lifestyle rooted in moment-to-moment awareness and appreciation of all events in life; it must, of necessity, be an everyday affair.
Some of us have difficulty accepting ourselves unless we are praying or are in church. We associate spirituality only with religion and its happenings. This ideal hinders our acceptance of ourselves as spiritual, but it is only part of the problem.
Toxic shame, like a brooding omnipresence in our souls, is always there to remind us that we are unworthy, and that spirituality is a state far too lofty for us to achieve. With its customary deceit, shame urges us to deny our humanness by denying its spiritual quality. To be human is to be spiritual, and to accept this is a part of healthy shame.
We need to recognize that spirituality is not at odds with "terrible dailiness," and it need not be grandiose in its ceremonials. The soul benefits most when its spiritual life is performed in the context of ordinary life. It grows and blossoms in the mundane and is found and nurtured in the smallest of daily activities.
Spirituality is living each moment of life more abundantly. It is honoring our values in our simplest acts. Spirituality is being present in our feelings. It is being more conscious of our connections to others and to all things. Spirituality enables us to turn an ugly loneliness into peaceful solitude.
None of these remarks is intended to discount prayer or our relationship with our higher power as principal sources of spirituality. Turning to this higher power on a daily basis is a bottomless well of spiritual sustenance. Other techniques, such as meditation and service, deepen and enrich us by giving us a way to pass on spiritual awakening to others.
I have the image of a group of sleeping children about to embark on a holiday. One of them awakens and, with excitement and energy, rushes to the others, urging them to "wake up - it's time to go!" All of us need to bring the light to others with the same joy and enthusiasm.
A brief word of caution: Certain qualities are antagonistic and destructive to our efforts to achieve a soulful spirituality. Rigidity, moralism and authoritarianism are some of these. They are to be avoided like the plague, for they are harsh and arrogantly insist on absolute standards and perfection. They destroy the gentleness and serenity out of which spirituality flows.
If I were to make a list of the promises of recovery, a deepening spirituality would rank high. It is the fruit of our labor. Recovery takes great courage and involves great risk if it is to be successful. To come out of hiding and embrace our shame is no easy thing to do. Those of you who went through a program know well the pain and agony of this experience. The payoff for such tremendous acts of courage should be great. I believe it is.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for The Meadows alumni.
Self-Esteem: An Inside Job
By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC
The concept may be nebulous, but it's by no means inconsequential. Our very lives are a testimony to our self-esteem, the condition of which is the distinguishing difference between surviving and thriving. Consider the following questions:
Do you live by the credo, "If I can't do it perfectly, then why do it at all"?
Are you carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders?
Do you bend over backwards to please others?
Is it hard for you to forgive yourself?
Is self-care selfish?
Do you "shape shift" to fit your particular setting?
Do you go one up or one down?
Are compliments hard to handle?
When someone says "I love you" do you silently wonder, "What's wrong with them?" maybe even, "I'm not sure I want to be with the kind of person who would want me."
And so, what's the state of your self-esteem? How miserable are you making yourself? For each of us, there comes a time when we are faced with our own human frailty. It is in these moments we are confronted with the state of our self-esteem. We discover how we really think and feel about ourselves. We may find that we have simply been operating in survival mode, having mastered an array of techniques for disguising our self-loathing. The good news is to make a change we need not look far. The answers lie within.
Pia Mellody has defined self-esteem as the internal experience of one's own preciousness in the face of one's human frailty. It is a total reality experience, and it comes from embracing the concept of inherent self-worth and applying it to self.
Consider what self-esteem is not- keeping in mind that the absence of self-love can be masterfully disguised. Genuine self-esteem is not about adaptations. It is not about measurement and comparison, nor is it about "should-ing" and shaming ourselves. Self-esteem is neither other esteem (the esteem others have for us) nor reality-based esteem (esteem that comes from comparing our reality to another person's reality to determine how we measure up). Self-esteem neither goes one up nor one down. And it cannot be acquired externally.
The kicker is, external esteem seekers tend to gravitate toward those from whom acceptance and love cannot easily be found. We flee from those who want us and pursue the rejecters. Perhaps we learned external esteem seeking early on. Perhaps it was how we learned to garner worth and value. It failed us then. And it fails us today. Genuine self-esteem, on the other hand, cuts beneath externals to inherent worth and value. It is constant, rather than situational; enduring, rather than fleeting. It is a mature and unconditional love. And yes, it truly is an inside job.
Breaking the shackles of our histories and reclaiming our preciousness hinges on the internal work of shame reduction. Much like faith and fear, so too are shame and self-esteem contrasting forces: more of one, the less of the other. It's the carried shame, that toxic carryover from our histories, that cripples. Letting go of this shame is an act of self-love. It is motivated out of an awareness of the truth of who we are- inherently precious, worthy and valuable.
Building self-esteem hinges on exposing our harsh inner critic- you know, that critic who without our awareness shames us... blames us when things go wrong... and calls it simple "luck" when things go well. That inner critic is dishonest. It exaggerates our failures; it calls us names; it records all past mistakes and transgressions. Sadly, this critical voice may be so familiar we hardly notice its destructiveness.
Recovery is about coming to our own assistance. In doing so, we match our healing action steps to our unique histories, giving ourselves today what we didn't get then. If we were falsely empowered as children, says Pia Mellody, we need first and foremost to base our sense of self-esteem on the concept of inherent worth. We stop controlling, manipulating and caretaking others, focusing instead on self-care and interdependence. Self-care is not selfish. It's not a character flaw to ask for help! We learn to love ourselves in the face of our humanity - as human beings rather than doings.
If we were disempowered early on, we need also to develop self-esteem from the concept of inherent worth. We learn to use boundaries accompanied by an attitude of moderation, so as to start living in action rather than reaction. We take responsibility for our own issues of self-care.
All of this involves stepping out of our comfort zone. It entails not only thinking our way into feeling and behaving but also behaving our way into thinking and feeling. It's the "act as if" principle. We say goodbye to our adaptations – to the coping mechanisms that perhaps helped us survive less than nurturing histories. We find gratitude for our insights and in so doing, become liberated from resentment. We learn to change the one person we can change. After all, if we want something we've never had before, we've got to do something we've never done before!" (Drina Reed) In this spirit, here are some thoughts for developing self-esteem:
Do an accurate self-assessment, listing positive and negative traits. Then, clean up the negative statements by making the statements factual, not judgmental. Remember, self-esteem is based on an accurate self-assessment.
List important positive traits. Repeat them frequently with feeling.
Accept the things you cannot change. Don't confuse an unchangeable cause with an unchangeable trait.
Become a change agent, a self-helper. Attend to your wants and needs, identifying and respecting what fulfills you. Your number one responsibility is yourself.
Identify the internal critic inside you. Write about it. What messages bring you mental misery?
Use affirmations to challenge negative cognitions. Tailor them to counteract individual self-defeating cognitions. Confront the internal critic.
Eliminate shame-based self-talk. It drains and discourages. It distracts us from identifying and fulfilling our needs, abilities, interests and goals.
Watch out for victim language. People and events do not cause feelings. They simply trigger mental habits.
Adopt responsibility language. Instead of "I can't," "I should" or "I'll try," use "I can," I will" or "I choose to." As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."
Set achievable goals and seek out situations in which the probability of success is high, places where you will stretch, but not overwhelm.
Be proud of who you are. Don't try to be someone else. Rely on your opinion of you for that's the one that matters.
Be patient. Our self-concept reflects years of experience and self-evaluation. Seeds were planted in our subconscious long before we had a say. Debunking the internal critic is a daily practice.
Today, we have choice. We can drape ourselves in the cloak of self-love. We can let go of the old to grab onto the new, remembering that recovery isn't changing who we are but rather letting go of who we are not! (Claudia Black) We can choose no longer to accept the lies we learned about who we were, embracing instead the beauty of who we are- perhaps for the first time.
No man is rich enough to buy back his past. As such, the best redemption is recovery. We can embrace the pain of the past and burn it as fuel for our journey. We may not have had choice early on, but today we do.
This is mind, body and spirit work, the fruits of which are nothing short of freedom, authenticity and acceptance of self and others. How liberating for those of us who have long played to an audience, denying the truth of who we were to come to love ourselves - not in spite of our humanity, but because of it!
This self-esteem journey is a homecoming of sorts. It's a coming home to self- to a place we have always known and to a place that we've never known. It's both liberating and daunting, familiar and foreign. It is the essence of authenticity and the ultimate soul work. And pretty soon, our hearts become strangely warmed. We have arrived home at last.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
The Co-Addicted Tango: Pia Mellody's Theory of Love Addiction and Love Avoidance
By Lawrence S. Freundlich
When Ms. "Crazy for Love" meets Mr. "Give Me Some Room to Breathe," the stage is set for what Pia Mellody calls "The Co-Addicted Tango." Ms. "Crazy for Love" is in Mellody's clinical terms, "The Love Addict," and Mr. "Give Me Some Room to Breathe," is "The Love Avoidant." They will each find something attractive about one another and inevitably something that will detract from one another, making their dysfunctional relationship as painful as it is frenetic and a back-and-forth "Co-Addictive Tango."
The Love Addict, to whom I have just referred to as "Crazy for Love," I identify as a woman, and the Love Avoidant, to whom I have just referred to as "Give me Some Room to Breathe," I identify as a man. Is this gender typing accurate? After all, men can be Love Addicts and women can be Love Avoidants? In fact there are powerful forces at work in American culture that distribute Love Addiction to women with significantly greater frequency than to men, and Love Avoidance to men with significantly greater frequency than to women. The most powerful generator of this disproportion is revealed when we understand the psychological concepts of "disempowerment" and "false empowerment."
Trauma results from either disempowering abuse or "falsely empowering" abuse, which, because of its falseness, disempowers as well. Abusive parents either shame the children into silence as a way of diminishing their own external stress, thereby disempowering the children, or assigning the children roles for which the parents should be responsible, thereby falsely empowering the children.
In our culture, young girls are trained to believe that men are the source of value, power and abundance; it is the female whose prevailing dysfunction is the outcome of "disempowering abuse." Her need to be taken care of by a man greater than herself is consistent with Love Addiction. The main conscious fear in relationships from which Love Addicts suffer is fear of neglect and abandonment. In childhood their parents have shamed them into thinking of themselves as unworthy. Without the help of an outside agency, like a husband, for example, they do not feel they have what it takes to be whole.
On the other hand, young males in our culture are raised to believe that it is their job to control and dominate- to be the source of value, power and abundance. They are trained to care "for the little woman," because she can't care for herself. It is the male whose prevailing dysfunction is the outcome of falsely empowering abuse. His need to caretake the needy female is consistent with Love Avoidance. The primary conscious fear of the Love Avoidant is fear of being drained, suffocated and overwhelmed. In their childhoods, the parents of Love Avoidants have forced on the child the role of caring for the needs of the parents. In this role reversal, the parent is being taken care of by the child. Giving the child the adult role is a form of enmeshment, which causes the love avoidant to think of intimacy as a job. They learn to resent this job as the neediness of the Love Addict becomes overwhelming.
The Love Addict enters into the relationship feeling an unbearable sense of inadequacy. Her relationship with the Love Avoidant is as doomed as it is inevitable. Having been neglected and abandoned by her own parents, she has learned that all attempts at intimacy will be painfully unsuccessful. When she seeks a love mate she will, therefore, find someone familiarly not intimate, but someone who will be good at mimicking intimacy. She deludes herself into believing that the mimicry is the real thing by creating her lover in accordance to a fantasy of her own making. The Love Avoidant becomes her knight in shining armor- "armor" being the operative psychological irony- shiny, but impervious to intimate contact.
The Love Avoidant, on the other hand, enters the relationship not because he is seeking confirmation of his own worth but out of a sense of duty. In his childhood, his parents taught him that it is his job to care for people who cannot care for themselves. As an adult, the Love Avoidant, while feeling superior or pity for the neediness of his Love Addicted partner, thrives on the power it gives him over her. Eventually, he grows resentful of all the work it takes to be a caretaker. He begins to feel suffocated and lifeless.
The suffocating Love Avoidant begins to distance himself from the Love Addict, who after several bouts of hysterically trying to get him back, eventually becomes exhausted with the pursuit of the Love Avoidant and turns to someone else with whom to be helplessly Love Addicted or to some other addiction to cover her pain of inadequacy. The substitute addiction could be food, alcohol, sex, work, spending or exercise- any addictive activity.
At this point in the Co-Addicted Tango, the Love Avoidant, who is no longer the object of the Love Addict's desire, feels the pain of no longer being needed. Without someone whose weakness cries out for his strength, his sense of superiority wavers. What value does he have if he cannot care for the needy? This triggers deep, underlying abandonment fears- sardonically the same kind of abandonment fears that lie at the heart of the Love Addict's emotional dysfunction. Love Addicts, never having been unconditionally loved by their neglectful and/or abandoning parents, look for a knight in shining armor to provide them with the self-esteem with which they never had mirrored for them by their own parents. Love Avoidants, on the other hand, almost never got a chance to feel their inherent worth, because in childhood they were empowered to care for their own parents. While not having received love from the parents, their caretaking gives them a sense of grandiosity, while masking the haunting truth that they have never been intimately loved. This false empowerment very effectively hides the crucial truth that they, like the Love Addict, were starved of intimacy. The contempt they feel for the neediness of the Love Addict, is the masked contempt they feel for themselves at not having been worthy of their parents' love. Contempt is shame turned outward on anyone whose weaknesses reminds us of the intolerable shame of our inadequacy.
Deprived of the caretaking role by the withdrawal of the Love Addict, the Love Avoidant finally feels the jolt of the carried shame of abandonment; and the Love Avoidant, who once feared being smothered by the Love Addict, now turns around to get close to the Love Addict again, using all of his powers of seduction to get back into control of the relationship.
One is running and the other is chasing all the time. When the one who is chasing finally gets close to the one running away, they both erupt into intensity, either a romantic interlude or a terrific fight. As the lyrics to the classic song say, "You Always Hurt the One You Love." This behavior is what most people call "normal"; and if it isn't "normal," it certainly is "familiar."
This attraction to what is familiar, says Pia Mellody, starts in our family of origin. "Familiarity" is the central engine of child hood character formation. In the case of Love Addicts and Love Avoidants, each person is first attracted to the other specifically because of the "familiar" traits that the other exhibits. These traits, although painful, are familiar from childhood and appear a safe way to keep the family system stable.
Both the Love Addict and Love Avoidant are traumatized children who originally adapted in order to survive within the abusive family system. They believed that only by adapting to their parents' expectations of them would they remain protected. Maintaining the status quo, even if it was a dysfunctional status quo, was for these children better than being abandoned or losing their identity (role) within the family.
The abandonment pain felt by Love Addicts in their families of origin teaches them as children to be quiet, alone, needless and wantless so as not to bother the parents. Later, they are unconsciously attracted to people who do not aggressively seek attachment to them. They unconsciously seek to replicate their childhood relationships. A part of self-esteem was wounded in the childhoods of Love Addicts. Abandonment and neglect send the message that they were not worth being with. A large part of their attraction toward Love Avoidants is that Love Addicts find in people who walk away from them an opportunity to heal the wound to their childhood self-esteem. If they can make an adult who withholds intimacy connect and fall in love with them, they can prove that they have inherent worth. Only a child can be abandoned; adults cannot. Healthy, mature adults have it within their capacities to deal satisfactorily with the vagaries of relationships without calling their inherent worth into question.
Love Avoidants are accustomed to needy, dependent, helpless people whom they can rescue, which gives them control and a 7 feeling of safety and power. When they pick up the right signal, Love Avoidants move in seductively and powerfully. People who think for themselves, say directly what they mean, solve their own problems and care adequately for themselves are not interesting to Love Avoidants.
The conscious fear of Love Avoidants is the fear of being drained and used. The unconscious fear of Love Avoidants is the conscious fear of Love Addicts, and that is the fear of abandonment. Abandonment is the core issue for both, but getting at the abandonment issue through shame reduction therapy is much more difficult with Love Avoidants than it is with Love Addicts. Disempowering abuse keeps Love Addicts close to their shame core all the time. Love Avoidants are walled off from their shame core by the grandiosity of their childhood false empowerment.
Pia Mellody's elegant charting of the dance of avoidance and pursuit between the Love Addict and the Love Avoidant is a fascinating anthropology of failed relationality, which deserves the name "Co-Addicted Tango." But understanding the various stages through which Love Avoidant/Love Addicted relationships travel is not enough to effect healing from the traumatic wounds that set these relationships in motion. For that healing to hap pen, as with all childhood relational trauma, shame reduction must take place.
The therapeutic contribution of presenting Pia Mellody's modus operandi of the Co-Addicted Tango to the patients is that the compelling accuracy of her models reduces the patients' shame by exposing their delusions to reason. As they come to see the delusions of Addiction and Avoidance in their own emotional lives, they see that they are not alone in the world of relational dysfunction. More importantly, they come to see that the emotions that seize them during relational trauma are not their fault, that they are not worthless. Undoing the automatic descent into shame and worthless ness during relational stress takes more than intellectual understanding.
Love Addicts and Love Avoidants must revisit the scenes of their childhood wounding by going back in time with the help of a therapist to confront their childhood abusers with their honest testimony of how their parents' abuse caused shame, pain and bewilderment. There comes a moment in this process of shame reduction when patients are able to rid themselves of carried shame. This emotional "detoxification" is at the center of recovery. The traumatic inheritance of abandonment has poisoned both Love Addict and Love Avoidant with shame of being who they are- better than or less when, disempowered or falsely empowered- it hardly makes a difference. Shame will run and ruin their relation ships unless they heal.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2005 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Some Thoughts on Rigorous Honesty
By John Bradshaw
Because lying to ourselves (denial) is the core of all addictions, the various 12-Step groups stress living in a rigorously honest way as the sine qua non of character rebuilding. Over the 40 years I've spent going to meetings, I've never heard anyone discuss what I've discovered in myself as "unconscious dishonesty."
Dealing with my unconscious dishonesty has been a critical part of my recovery. I've found two major areas of unconscious dishonesty. One stems from what the psychologist Carl Jung called "the shadow" of the psyche. The second stems from the contamination of my fundamental childhood wound. My shadow dishonesty manifested itself in gossiping, criticizing and being judgmental of others. My core childhood wound, engulfment, manifested itself in my closest relationships as the avoidance of intimacy, the need to control, and fantasies of being used by my partner. Let me briefly elaborate on both of these areas of unconscious dishonesty.
Jung's idea of the shadow includes what have been referred to as "shame binds," as well as one's past behaviors that one considers unacceptable and disgusting. Our shadow also contains unrealized positive parts of ourselves, which is why embracing our shadow (toxic shame) can lead us to the discovery of the many potential strengths we are capable of actualizing.
The parts of myself that I repress and the behaviors that I cannot accept are unconsciously projected onto others. Over many years, my repressed parts and my detestable behaviors become unconscious. I have engaged in gossip and criticism of others, especially of those in the recovery community. I also have been the object of the vicious jealousy of others.
Early on in the 12-Step groups I attended, I heard the old timers warn against taking other people's inventory. Yet I still find judgment, gossip and criticism of others widespread in the 12-Step groups I attend.
I have worked hard to uncover my shadow, and, while I slip occasionally, I have made great progress. I'm certain that my dishonesty in judging, criticizing and gossiping about others destroys the quality of my sobriety.
Our Primary Wound
Each of us carries some degree of "woundedness." The wounds we carry from our family of origin, especially if our family was severely dysfunctional, are the most damaging. All forms of abuse (including neglect, abandonment and enmeshment) set us up to miss meeting important developmental dependency needs. Our developmental deficits form the core symptoms of codependency.
My roles in my dysfunctional family of origin were "star" and "caretaker" of my mother's pain. I was enmeshed as her surrogate spouse and "carried" her rage, shame and unresolved sexuality. An unresolved wound pervades our consciousness and gnaws at us like a painful toothache. Over the years, we become so used to defending against our wound that we lose consciousness of what we're defending against. We can see or hear something dangerous and threatening in almost anything our spouse or an intimate friend says to us.
In my book, Creating Love, I describe the phenomena of defensive behaviors as trance states. Following Freud, I speak of ego defenses as auto-hypnotic traumas. We can engage in positive or negative visual fantasies about those closest to us. We can see something that isn't there or imaginatively contaminate something we do see. A smile can become a smirk; apathetic eyes can be seen as uncaring. People with unresolved wounds continually "make up" things about those with whom they interact. When we do this, we are in a delusional trance state: "Delusion is sincere denial." Our shadow and our primary wound keep us in a dishonest, defensive, delusional state.
Recovery calls us to continually work to be more rigorously honest. Rigorous honesty means confronting my shadow and giving up the defensive delusions that guard my wound. The mechanics of repair are too complicated to present in a short article. An example will have to suffice.
Embracing Your Shadow
A simple way to uncover unconscious shadow material is to ask yourself what the people closest to you habitually say about your behavior that causes you to energetically defend yourself. Your spouse, children, family and close friends know you better than anyone else. They experience firsthand the contradictions in your behavior. The intensity of one's defensive energy (especially rage) is key in making shadow material conscious.
Tracking Your Wound
I look at rigid family-of-origin roles, as well as what psychologist John Money describes as a "love map," in order to become aware of one's primary wound.
My dysfunctional alcoholic family pushed me into a "star," "caretaker" of my mother's pain, "surrogate spouse" role. These roles required me to have certain feelings, such as joy, courageous silence in the face of pain, and intense interest in selfless moral behaviors. These feelings and other concomitant behaviors are highly valued and were attractive to my love partners. But behind my rigid caretaker façade were other feelings, such as rage, fearful hyper-vigilance and shame.
When my love partner or good friend got too close, she experienced my dark side, my shame/rage/blame game, and my real dislike of taking care of others all the time. Rage particularly kept me guarded and non-intimate. My rage was almost always dishonest.
Our "love map" is formed during our early developmental stages ( ages 3 to 8 ) when our sexual identity is first being formed. Our "love map" is composed of the voices and behaviors of our most significant source figures. It also is shaped by our primary wound. If we liked our mother's or father's sense of humor or we admired their physical appearance, these images become a part of our "love map." Our "love map" also contains our source figures' negative character traits. My love map contains an image of a dark haired, seductive woman who is fearful, needy and depressed, as well as my father's frivolous irresponsibility. It contained (prior to recovery) my parents" intimacy dysfunction that each guarded dishonestly - my father with his sex and alcohol addictions, my mother with her codependency.
Until I did the grief work that involved family-of-origin issues, I could not be honest in my marriage or my post-divorce love relationships. It is imperative that abused and/or enmeshed people realize how difficult it is to be intimate, and therefore honest, without first doing the grief work that allows emotional separation from one's primary source figure(s).
I show people how their wounds and love maps contaminate their intimate communications. I use a tool called "the Awareness Wheel," developed by Sherod Miller, Elam Nunnally and Dan Wackman in their book Alive and Aware. The Awareness Wheel includes four areas of consciousness:
The place where our wound is most likely to distort our communication is on the second level of awareness. Our interpretations (unless we are in the realm of pure, formal logic) always involve some element of imagination. We cannot know for sure what is going on inside another person's skin.
Our interpretations are partly fantasies based on the sensory data we observe, which then trigger an emotion and some element of volition.
Let me conclude with an example. A few years ago, my fiancée (now my wife) and I were in Dublin. After finishing leading an inner-child workshop, we decided to take some time to explore. While visiting some historic sites in Dublin, my fiancée Karen saw an antique store she wanted to explore. I told her that I had all the antiques I ever wanted and I did not wish to buy any more. She had some lovely antiques herself and agreed. As we browsed, I saw Karen talking to the owner of the store. I heard her say, "I'll call you tomorrow." Immediately I felt my stomach muscles tense and my throat go dry, and I recognized these bodily signals as the first feeling of rage. I had done years of work learning to contain anger and to separate from the rage I carried from my enmeshment with my mother.
As we walked out of the store, I knew I had to express my anger before it became reactive rage. I used the Awareness Wheel as my guide. My disclosure was as follows: "Karen, I saw you talking to the antiques shop owner. I heard you say, "I'll call you tomorrow!" My fantasy is that you are going to buy an antique (with my money because I knew she didn't have the money to buy an antique). I feel angry because we agreed to not buy any antiques, and I want to know your intentions."
At that time, Karen and I were seriously working on tools for conflict resolution. Karen repeated to me what she heard me saying and waited for me to verify that what she repeated was what I said. When I verified her response, she said, "Yes, I am going to buy an antique. My mother gave me money to buy you a birthday present!" When I heard her reply, I realized that my fantasy interpretation was contaminated by my wound of being used by a woman. During our three-year engagement, Karen had never done anything to suggest that she was trying to use me for my money. My wound (which I thought I had under control) festered up and formed my judgment, which triggered my anger. I felt like a jerk and apologized profusely. I hope you can see how a wound (even after years of recovery work) can distort communication and make what seems like righteous anger an expression of dishonesty.
Recovery is an ongoing process, which requires the continual working of maintenance steps 10 and 11. These steps help make me willing to work at uncovering my unconscious dishonesty.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Rigorous Honesty: From False Pride to Authentic Self-Respect
By Kingsley Gallup
While in our disease, we may have prided ourselves on many things - perhaps even our "honesty." In recovery, however, we come to see the truth about ourselves - namely, that when we pride ourselves on something, it is likely something for which we wish we could take credit, something we wish we could claim as our own... but something that is not truly us. We discover in our lives the toxic presence of false pride. In our adapted ego state (the modified ego state in which our addictions flourish), we prided ourselves on being everything to everyone... all the time. This was our badge of honor. We were chameleons, forever flexible. At all times adaptable. And we believed it is precisely this malleability that makes us good people - people who deserve to be proud.
In recovery, we discover just the opposite to be true. While in our addictions, we had been indubitably dishonest. Our malleability had been intrinsically deceitful. (Would it seem logical to pride ourselves on that?)
We now find that our pride had been nothing but a mask... a false front. It was simply another brand of denial. It was a facade of self respect. Pride was our pretense. It hid our shame.
Now, this is not to say we were in no ways honest while in our disease. But let's face it: When it came to the critical points, the truly consequential details of our lives - like who we were and what we wanted and needed - the inherent dishonesty of our disease reared its head. And we paid the dearest price. Simply stated:
The deceitfulness of our codependence - and our resulting addictions - may indeed bring us embarrassment and shame. Even so, we must not allow ourselves to remain stuck in this place of indignity and dishonor. (We have been there far too long!) In order to heal, let us instead find in this shame a motivation to change.
As we learn in recovery, much of the shame we have been carrying around is not our own shame. It belongs to others. At the same time, however, we learn that some shame is healthy shame. It is our conscience speaking, motivating us to grow and to change. Responding to this personal shame, while at the same time releasing the carried shame that has been nothing but an albatross around our necks, is the hallmark of the functional adult. It is about taking responsibility for our choices. It is about owning our dishonesty. It is about getting honest with ourselves and others - and choosing to do things differently as we move forward.
Rigorous honesty is nothing short of hard work. It takes courage, after all, to speak our truth. It takes strength to be vulnerable, readily admit wrongs, stay current with the people in our lives and acknowledge the truth of who we are. Disciplining ourselves to share our realities and to attend to what we want and need - when we want and need it - is the liberating work of our recovery.
Interestingly, maintaining our dishonesty had been hard work as well. After all, keeping up appearances was exhausting! Keeping all those balls in the air all the time was arduous and draining. The feeling of wanting desperately to flee (and from a situation, no less, that we perpetuated through our deceitfulness), and yet remaining amid all the craziness, certainly felt like hard work. But doesn't hard work usually pay? Were there any payoffs from our dishonesty? Or were there simply trade-offs?
Our disease has robbed us of our integrity for long enough. No longer must we live in that proverbial "pressure-cooker" of codependency - namely, that adapted condition in which the pressure of external demands and the pain of our own dishonesty inhibit our ability to truly thrive. In recovery, we learn to consistently release "steam" from that pressure-cooker by speaking our truth. No longer must we operate in crisis mode. No longer must we seek simply to survive in an environment from which we want to run. We come to embrace life, rather than flee from it! Getting honest involves acceptance and vindication. We acknowledge that our addictions served a purpose in our lives. They helped us to survive in less-than-nurturing environments. Next, we accept where our addictions took us by confronting the dishonest patterns of our disease. The addicted life, after all, is inherently dishonest. (This by no means implies that addiction is a moral issue, but maintaining the addicted life demands a degree of deception.)
One of the greatest - if not the greatest - fruits of recovery is intimacy, the path to which is self-knowledge. To achieve true intimacy in our lives, we must challenge each and every message that has led us astray, that has taken us away from ourselves. In doing so, we come to know ourselves... perhaps for the very first time.
We need no longer cling to false pride. Rather, we now love ourselves justifiably as we nobly strive for rigorous honesty. We learn to love ourselves, if only for the effort we make, as true valor is found in progress, not perfection. We love ourselves for being honest about our fallibility and our weaknesses. We love ourselves as we walk down the perfectly imperfect path of recovery... two steps forward, one back... two steps forward, one back...
Honesty is nothing short of an act of love - for ourselves, for others and for our higher power. It is in this place of honesty that we truly connect. It is here that we genuinely feel a part of the human family. It is here that we not only survive, but thrive. Simply stated, the language of recovery is truth. May we speak it now with honor, dignity and love.
Note: This article was first published in the Winter 2003/04 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Whores & Madonnas
By Maureen Canning-Fulton, MA
A friend of mine, who knows about the therapy I do with female patients in the area of sexual dysfunction, had sent me a movie review. He wanted to know how I would react to it. The review was of The Magdalene Sisters, a film by Scottish director Peter Mullin that had debuted in London in February 2003 and opened in New York in August. The review by Mary Gordon, a distinguished essayist and novelist, ran under the headline, "How Ireland Hid Its Own Dirty Laundry."
The film follows three young Irish girls who, in 1964, are sent to one of the Magdalene Asylums, institutions founded in the 19th century, primarily in Ireland, and run by nuns. They housed girls who got pregnant outside of marriage or who were considered too sexual, too flirtatious or even too active. With the legal consent of their fathers, they were incarcerated in these asylums, which doubled as laundries.
The kind of outrageous injustice that sent the women there is shown in the opening scene at a raucous Irish wedding. A young woman named Margaret is lured away from the party by a cousin who rapes her upstairs. He returns to the festivities and continues to drink with the other men.
When Margaret comes down, she is flushed and disheveled and so clearly upset that a girlfriend shows concern. We see their lips moving as Margaret tells her what happened. The friend accosts the young man, shouting at him, and then goes to an older man for help.
Margaret just sits there, her eyes darting as the gossip makes its way around the room. It becomes increasingly obvious that Margaret, rather than the young man, is being singled out as the problem. She's the one who will be punished, not the rapist. The next day, Margaret is packed up and shipped off to one of the Magdalene laundries.
Always exploited and, in many cases, sexually abused, Margaret and the other victims work, unpaid, seven days a week, 364 days a year, with only Christmas off. Most of the laundries had closed by the 1970s, but the very last did not close until 1996; 30,000 women had passed through their doors.
In her review of The Magdalene Sisters, Gordon writes, "Didn't any of the women who escaped or left legitimately (any adult male relative could rescue them) tell anyone - a family member, a friend, a sympathetic confessor - what they had endured? The answer seems to be no, and the explanation lies in the particular flavor of Irish shamed silence. The moral horror of the Magdalene laundries is that the abuses perpetrated were not the outgrowth of simple sadism or even of unmindfulness, but of the belief that they were intended for the victims" own good."
The grotesque and terrible injustices suffered by these women, while all different, reveal that they were victims not so much of deep, unflinching religious beliefs, but of a deep-seated contempt for and fear of - female sexuality.
When I read this article, I was personally touched. It reminded me of my own Irish Catholic heritage, and how my mother was so ashamed of her sexuality. On another level, I was reminded of the widespread malaise in our country that makes women either whores or Madonnas; it is one of the poisonous results of America's shaming of female sexuality.
I remember when we were growing up in the ´70s, all of the girls were getting bikinis, wearing halter tops and baring their midriffs. I really wanted to be part of that scene and to be part of my peer culture. My mother absolutely refused. I had to beg her to get a two-piece swimming suit, because, for my mother, bad girls do those kinds of things - good girls don't.
Speaking to my mother's history and culture, the review of The Magdalene Sisters addresses the Irish belief that women's sexuality is shameful, and the fact that men control the issues of women's sexuality. They control it to the exclusion of a woman's own humanity.
In America today, women's sexuality is afflicted by what I call the "Madonna-Whore Split." There are good girls and bad girls; and sinful girls should be shunned. The Madonnas are the childbearing wives and daughters. We put them on a pedestal, and we can't think of them as being sexual and "sexy," because we need them be pure and virginal like the Madonna herself. Then we have the whores: the girls "we can play with." These girls are promiscuous and sexual, and we think of them as wrong and bad. And by calling them wrong and bad, we make them scapegoats and transfer our sexual shame to them. We think they are kinky curiosities, seducers and nymphos. These labels dehumanize them. Our contact with them is physical only or based in pornographic imagining - there is no intimacy. We think they are beneath us, while it is we who have paid the price of grandiosity by denying their humanity and our own lust. We cannot have them in our everyday lives. In our everyday lives, we want Madonna, and our women have learned to be Madonnas - all at a terrible cost.
In other words, we have J-Lo and Britney Spears acting that out for us, becoming sexual caricatures. In our culture, they become icons, but we do not let the sexuality that they imply, and which we affirm with their celebrity, take place in our own bedrooms. That would be shameful.
In our culture, the burden of sexual shame is most brutal to the women whose Madonna-hood has been forced upon them by the male dominance of sexual mores, as so vividly portrayed in The Magdalene Sisters.
I see this all the time in my practice; women come in who have the "Madonna-Whore Syndrome." I ask them if they have ever had an orgasm, and they tell me they never have. I ask why. They tell me they don't enjoy sex. I ask if they have ever masturbated, and they tell me no. They don't know how to masturbate, and the idea sounds dirty and shameful. They tell me they are afraid to try.
Some women who come in are the other extreme: women who have acted out and are the bad girls. They feel shamed and dirty. Often they are depressed because of this shame, because of their inability to embrace the human reality of their sexuality and to know how they have been abused.
We have been conditioned to deny the human totality of our sexuality. This is no less a delusion than denying our reason, compassion, hunger or need for friendship and intimacy. So sex becomes this horrible split between the pure and the sinful. Why is it that many women cannot have fun with their sexuality? Why is it they cannot freely orgasm? Why is it they cannot feel good about their bodies? It is because of the shame. Because good girls don't do that.
We Americans are not really looking at this cultural shame; we are not really addressing what goes on in women's bodies, minds and souls, and what they want sexually. Because most women don't know. They have been shamed out of their sexual gift, and this shaming away of female sexuality is epidemic.
Certainly the women I treat are not getting a sexual education rooted in the fullness of their perfect-imperfection - that acceptance of the truth about their humanity that enables self-esteeming sexual vitality. I don't think we are aware of how we have scapegoated women and how we have not allowed them to be the full sexual human beings they were created. The Magdalene Sisters will powerfully compel us to such necessary reflections.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
An Expense of Spirit and a Waste of Shame
By Lawrence S. Freundlich
There is so much about her that I admire. Her knowledge of Western culture is vast; she is one of the best-read individuals I have met - including at the highest levels of academia - and she seems to remember it all. But her book learning hasn't isolated her from the world. She has a rich social life. She attends premier art openings and theater and music events. Her circle of friends includes the business, cultural, and social movers and shakers in America and Europe. Many of them have been her lovers.
But all of these virtues are awash in alcohol. She has partied all over the globe and left a trail of real and metaphorical broken glass and stained gowns. She is famous or infamous (depending on whether she is your friend or your foe) for her scurrilous mockery of pomposity among the rich and powerful. She is afraid of no one. She is welcome in as many circles for her sanitizing iconoclasm as she is unwelcome in others for her preposterous rudeness. For some she is a culture hero - for others a dreadful boor. She has not spared her several husbands or children the spectacle of her shaming grandiosity.
When I was drinking, this woman and I were often in one another's company, bonded by alcoholic gaiety and amused by one another's provocative hostility. Neither of us would have recognized a boundary violation if we were hit over the head by it.
When I sobered up, after I had worked hard at making what I learned at The Meadows a part of my life, I came to see my friend for the adult wounded child she was, and my heart went out to her. I was particularly touched by her admiration for my own recovery. Because she often expressed how much of a better person I had become, I thought that I could lead her down the path of recovery.
I wanted very much to change her - to make her want what I had. I encouraged her to tell me about her upbringing, and she did. It was a very painful tale in which the false empowerment of privilege and the disempowerment of abandonment left their morbid residue of grandiosity, shame, and worthlessness over all her relationships and trapped her in alcoholic denial of her own immaturity.
During a recent vacation retreat at her home in France, at which several of us were her guests for a few days, we were the recipients of her usual hectic generosity. Then the liquor began to do its work: slurred speech, repeated anecdotes, insults, confused lectures. She was always on stage, leaving hardly any air for me to breathe. Once again, I was the little child in the presence of his shaming parents - too frightened to speak the truth for fear of being abandoned. I should have left, but I did not. Instead, I sulked silently, and my carried shame began to grow like a tumor. My authentic self shriveled. I masked my worthlessness in a constant interior monologue of contempt for her bad behavior, when it was my own shame, fear and powerlessness that were torturing me. Before the week was over, I alternated between wanting to scream in her face or hide in my room with my head under a pillow.
In the months since that sad event, I have reflected on how ill-advised it is for us recovering people to think we can save friends and partners from their addictions. Since so many recovering people have had childhoods in which their wounding involved not being heard, they are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress when their active friends and partners mock their advice by continued dysfunction. When they inevitably fail to understand us, our own shame wounds are opened, and it is we who put our recovery in danger.
The model upon which our recovery is based will often leave us feeling on the outside. This loneliness is not a personal failure. Accepting it is the difficult but healthful gift of having become a mature adult. The wound of "not being heard" creates an abnormal need to hear things discussed intelligently and straightforwardly. I say "abnormal" because such boundaried and conscious behavior in relationship is abnormal for the species. We may be forced to accept our need for and insistence on boundaried and conscious relationship as an idiosyncrasy spawned by our own trauma histories. To fall into self-pity because we harbor a delusional notion of recovery according to our standards is an expense of spirit and a waste of shame.
The First Step is for the addict to take - we cannot take it for him. No one took it for us. If modeling sober behavior for our addicted friends does not lead them in the right direction, perhaps the only other thing we can do is to pray for them. Prayer, after all, doesn't require their understanding or willingness.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Healthy Sexuality One Step at a Time
By Maureen Canning
There is a saying in AA that reminds newcomers “to fake it until you make it.” The belief behind this advice is that you can act your way into good feelings – that proper behavior nurtures healthy emotions.
Boundary practice, which is the practice of sober behavior, relies on this insight. As Pia Mellody has said, ”Boundary practice re-creates the conditions under which truth and respect are possible.” During the “re-creation” stage, sober behavior is consciously practiced and may seem unnatural, since we still are feeling the uncomfortable emotions associated with our disease. But despite our discomfort, we notice that the results of our acting sober are all positive. Positive builds upon positive and, at last, boundary practice yields a satisfactory (healthy) portion of inner peace.
In therapy, recovering sex addicts discover that what they think of as sexual pleasure is, in fact, the reduction of anxiety they feel when they use manipulative sex to obliterate or ameliorate the fear, shame and powerlessness wired into them by childhood sexual abuse. Disconnection from the authentic self has caused them to make a monumental mistranslation in which danger, intensity, fear, shame and powerlessness have come to mean “sexual pleasure.” Undoing this perversion of emotional truth and recovering for addicts their Authentic Selves are the aims of recovery. When in recovery, we reconnect to our Authentic Selves, we feel the safety that we lacked as children. In this feeling of safety, we begin to build what I call “congruent” selves, in which, on all levels of our being, we move toward living in the truth and taking the first steps toward healthy intimacy in relationships.
One Step at a Time
Sex addicts had to disconnect with their feelings as children, because to acknowledge the betrayal of their parents' role of caregivers would have been overwhelmingly threatening. So they adapted, stuffed their feelings, and lost contact with the care and nurturing they genuinely wanted and needed. Since sexual urge is the energy source of our selfhood, sexual abuse caused them to lose contact with their creative identity. In order to get back in touch with their healthy needs and wants, they have to rediscover what it feels like to be authentic - free of traumatic intimidation - and vulnerable. This reconnection will be a careful and specific process of reflection and practical exercise. It is a step-by-step process. The goal is to rediscover, in the everyday events of our lives, the healthy bond between pleasure and sexuality. Only then will it be possible to see how spiritual truths and sexual energies are connected at the highest level of our being.
For example, music is one thing that can provoke the awareness of such positive bonds between bodily sensation and pleasure. When you connect with music that seems to speak to you, that is the kind of restorative reconnecting between pleasure and self-esteem that I speak of. The music and who we really are seem to be congruent; we fit together as part of a force greater than ourselves.
Another example of an activity, which, like music, reconnects us and makes us feel whole, is sensuous dining. You go into your favorite restaurant and order your favourite food, and, in that moment, you are so present and connected with the experience of taste, smell, texture and comfort that you feel complete. You feel that pleasure is what you deserve. Pleasure loses its connection to danger.
People damaged in this way must be coached in the techniques of self-care and pleasure if they are to recover from sexual addiction. I coach recovering sex addicts to identify the everyday things that give them pleasure. It might be burning incense, the sound of a fountain they listen to as they sleep, or bedroom walls, newly painted in a color that is soothing. As they act practically and habitually to cater to their sense of pleasure, they reawaken their sensitivity to pleasure and learn that it does not have to come with fear, intensity, powerlessness and shame. They learn that pleasure is not the reward of manipulation and control; it is something they deserve, in and of itself, and only because they are precious. They learn that the experience of pleasure exposes them to no danger. But it can be terrifying for sexually addicted persons to open up to such restorative activities. Their original fusion of pleasure with abuse makes the opening of oneself to pleasures as innocent as music, eating or decorating the house in favourite colors, a traumatic pathway back to pain and shame.
This is where the maxim "to fake it until you make i" is put to work. Overcoming the reluctance to listen to our favorite music, to linger over our favorite foods, to decorate our rooms in our favorite colors, soon bears fruit. We learn that pleasure does not need to plunge us back into memories of abuse. We may feel anxiety when we pleasure ourselves in these healthy ways. But we do it anyway, with a little help from our recovering, healthy, like-minded friends – friends with whom we can share our fears and our reluctance to let go and become vulnerable.
The goal of sexual recovery is not to make music, food or interior decorating healthfully available to the recovering addict. The goal is to liberate the sexual energy at the core of our being. When I talk about sexuality, I am not just talking about genital contact. I believe that sexual energy is the core of who we are; it is our life force, our passion and our creativity. From this sexual core of our being resonates our unique selfhood.
Maureen Canning, Clinical Consultant of The Meadows and Dakota, was recently featured in an interview on iVillage. In Tiger Woods in Sex Rehab: What Really Goes on in There, Anyway?, Canning described some indicators of a sexual addiction, and what goes on during a typical day of sex addiction treatment. Canning was also quoted in a Time.com article, What Happens in Sex Rehab?
On a related note, the work of The Meadows Senior Clinical Advisor Pia Mellody was described in an article on love addiction on Albany.com. The article outlines Mellody's book Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love , and describes the symptoms, causes, and steps to overcome love addiction.
For more information on the treatment of sexual addiction, visit The Meadows, The Meadows Dakota or Maureen Canning’s Sexual Addiction Blog.