The Meadows Blog

Forgiveness: Let's Just Call it "Letting Go"

By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC

It tugs at the heart, boggles the mind and puts the spirit to the test. It’s called forgiveness. But what exactly is it? While the concept conjures up many decidedly unappealing connotations, could it be that forgiveness is simply letting go?

Forgiveness is at the heart of recovery, and mastering it the essence of renewal. And many of us can't put it off any longer. Our ill will has become chronic. We have been inviting resentment into our hearts through our unrealistic expectations. And resentment is nothing short of bondage. It drains our life force. Forgiveness can replenish it.

Today we have choices. We can cling to the past, to a childlike ego state and the security of an unforgiving spirit. Or we can let go. These are the choices of the functional adult. After all, are we victims or volunteers?

Perhaps we never felt powerful early in life, and we aren't about to relinquish that power now, however real or perceived it may be. Perhaps our resentments make us feel one-up and better-than. Perhaps we fear looking others in the eye, as this would mean coming face-to-face with the truth of who we are.

So why forgive? Why risk the pain of exposure? Why give away our perceived power? Because as good as the payoffs of not forgiving may have been, the perks of forgiving are far better! Forgiveness releases healing power. It frees us from the burden of hurt and anger. It calls us to confront humanity and fallibility and, in so doing, allows us to live in peace and change for the better. It liberates all that energy we previously expended on resentment. It opens the door to intimacy. Forgiveness is about remembering and letting go (Claudia Black).

Since we can't give away what we haven't experienced, forgiving oneself is step one. We learn to release sorrow and regret. We love ourselves through our misdeeds. We confront our past and work out resentment. We become open to the belief that we can change. The path of self-forgiveness is paved with trust in ourselves, our humanity, and our higher power. It is a spiritual self-healing of the heart that comes by calming self-rejection, quieting our sense of failure, and lightening the burden of guilt (Messina & Messina).

Some of us have bought into the myth that that self-forgiveness is selfish - just some socially acceptable way of letting ourselves off the hook by avoiding responsibility. If so, it's no wonder we hesitate to forgive others who have wronged us! Why would we ever want to let them off the hook? Truth is, self-forgiveness is an act of integrity. It is how we maintain character. It's how we live ethically and free from hypocrisy.

Without self-forgiveness, our wounds never heal. We risk unresolved hurt, pain and suffering. We fear making mistakes or having past ones revealed. Our lingering shame fuels self-pity, indifference, stuffed emotions, self-destructive behaviors, hostility, distance from others, and resistance to chance. Forgiving oneself is about letting go of shame - some carried, some our own.

What we believe about ourselves dictates how we interpret our world. Think about the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves. What exactly are we offering our neighbors? Love and forgiveness? Or hostility and condemnation? Only from a place of authentic self-love can we love our neighbors as we truly wish to do.

Each of us yearns for the freedom of letting go. But we need to do the footwork. It's time to take a step. After all, "If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done before" (Drina Reed). The time is now. Let go.

Monday, 28 June 2010 20:00

Featured Workshop: Sexual Recovery

Sexual Recovery is one of a series of cutting-edge workshops offered at The Meadows. These workshops are designed both to meet the needs of those who have not experienced our inpatient treatment and as a source of renewal for our alumni.

Sexual Recovery is a five-day workshop that examines sexual compulsive issues and behaviors. Often we do not talk about our sexual experiences because the subject carries too much shame. This workshop helps to lift the shame and resolve sexual dilemmas and self-destructive behaviors. Chief among these compulsive behaviors are:

Sexual obsession and intrigue
Compulsive masturbation with or without pornography
Compulsive use of cybersex
Use of prostitutes, strip clubs, peeping or sex bookstores
Exposing oneself
Multiple or serial relationships
The Sexual Recovery workshop is best for those who want to

Jumpstart their recovery process
Prevent relapse
Acquire tools to support continuing recovery
These workshops are scheduled as "men only" and "woman only" and are offered periodically throughout 2010. More detailed information about the Sexual Recovery workshop is available by visiting our website or by emailing our Intake Department.

And for commentary on the topic of Sexual Addiction, please visit Maureen Canning's blog on the subject.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 edition of Meadowlark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.

Fear of Abandonment: Some Lessons from M. Scott Peck and Pia Mellody
By Lawrence S. Freundlich

In Pia Mellody's charting of childhood developmental immaturity, one of its primary symptoms (meaning one of the inherent, essential human attributes of the child at birth) is dependency. Each human child is dependent for his survival on his primary caregivers and, as he matures, on his ability to cooperate with others so that he may get what he needs and wants in order to become a functional adult. Thus, the infant is first dependent and, then, as he matures, interdependent. However, this potential to develop the skills necessary for interdependence has a built-in obstacle, one that, like the other primary symptoms, is inherent at birth; this built-in obstacle is the child's fear of abandonment.

My recent readings in M. Scott Peck's enormously influential The Road Less Traveled (Simon and Schuster, 1978) have reminded me how much of a creative and/or a destructive force the fear of abandonment can be in the shaping of a child's psyche. Its power to harm is obvious. On the other hand, its power to become a shaping element in a child's healthy development of interdependence is less obvious, but just as elemental.

As an infant, totally dependent on his parents for the fulfillment of his needs, the child's expectation is that the world exists to satisfy his own desires. This instinctual expectation of immediate satisfaction is unreasoning, uncivilized and innocently selfish. In the first few months of an infant's life, a child does not take care of himself. He is taken care of. Not only does he lack the skills to self-care, but also he has no conception that the environment has anything else on its mind than to care for him. He demands everything, with no inkling that it might be refused or unavailable. If it is refused or unavailable, he will presume that he is being abandoned. He will view any denial of his wishes as a mortal threat, and anyone who has heard a baby scream for solace knows how nature has shaped his voice to indicate the imminence of a mortal threat - even if the threat is only a wet diaper, a desire for an ounce of milk or the need for a nap.

If very young children are to emotionally survive these reality-based inklings of abandonment, they must learn, in Peck's terminology, "delayed gratification." Peck equates delayed gratification with discipline - the discipline forced on every child when he recognizes that he is part of a social system and not "God the Baby." The challenge of delayed gratification brings the child face-to-face with the reality of being only one human being among others, competing for survival in interdependent groups.

Self-care - or the ability to recognize that you will get what you want only if you do some of the job yourself - is learned in the face of the child's elemental desire to be cared for totally: "I want what I want, and I want it now." The parental challenge is to teach the child discipline without implying abandonment. In other words, in order for a child to grow up, he has to learn that delayed gratification is not equivalent to abandonment. The child's ability to survive will depend on how well he learns to cooperate. This is when the sublimation of abandonment fear becomes the engine for healthy development. Peck says:

Most parents, even when they are otherwise relatively ignorant or callous, are instinctively sensitive to their children's fear of abandonment and will therefore, day in and day out, hundreds and thousands of times, offer their children needed reassurance: "You know Mommy and Daddy aren't going to leave you behind"; "Of course Mommy and Daddy will come back to get you"; "Mommy and Daddy aren't going to forget about you!" If these words are matched by deeds, month in and month out, year in and year out, by the time of adolescence, the child will have lost the fear of abandonment and in its stead will have a deep inner feeling that the world is a safe place in which to be, and protection will be there when it is needed. With this internal sense of the consistent safety of the world, such a child is free to delay gratification of one kind or another, secure in the knowledge that the opportunity for gratification, like home and parents, is always there, available when needed....

But many are not so fortunate. A substantial number of children actually are abandoned by their parents during childhood, by death, by desertion, by sheer negligence... Others, while not abandoned in fact, fail to receive from their parents the reassurance that they will not be abandoned. There are some parents, for instance, who, in their desire to force discipline as easily and quickly as possible, will actually use the threat of abandonment, overtly or subtly, to achieve this end. The message they give to their children is: If you don't do exactly what I want you to do, I won't love you anymore, and you can figure out for yourself what that might mean." It means, of course, abandonment and death... So it is that these children, abandoned either psychologically or in actuality, enter adulthood lacking any deep sense that the world is a safe and protective place. To the contrary, they perceive the world as dangerous and frightening, and they are not about to forsake gratification or security in the present for the promise of later gratification or security in the future, since for them the future seems dubious indeed.

Considering the shaping power of the fear of abandonment, we can see that being taught to self-care may appear to the child as the withdrawal of his parents" support. How then does one introduce the discipline of self-care without exciting the fear of abandonment? Peck says that self-care is impossible unless the child feels that he is valuable. "The statement "I am a valuable person" is essential to mental health and is a cornerstone of self-discipline [delayed gratification]." Peck and Pia Mellody are in agreement on this point of being valuable. Without a feeling of value, the child will not self-care.

For Mellody, self-esteem is the first core issue. In discussing the internal connections of the core issues, Mellody speaks of psychic balance being achieved when value, power and self-care are properly functioning. She observes that, when we believe we are valuable, we do not have to depend on the opinions of others to verify our value (our internal boundary is working). We are in touch with our inherent worth. Our actions are congruent with our belief in our own value. Then, because we value ourselves, caring for ourselves becomes an act of self-esteem. Self-care then is a function of self-esteem, because it is natural to care for someone we like. The good feeling we have about ourselves is projected out into our environment. We learn to care for ourselves because we believe we are worth caring for in a world abundant in possibilities of caring for us.

It is impossible to teach self-care to a child who is unwilling to delay gratification because he is terrified of abandonment. Self-esteem, on the other hand, makes the child confident that abandonment does not lie waiting in the shadows of delayed gratification. The abandonment-haunted child will not allow himself to be vulnerable enough to experiment with the techniques required for interdependence. If he takes a chance, he thinks he will be injured. Instead of venturesome vulnerability, he will hide himself behind various kinds of lies (adaptations) so that no one can touch him. He becomes, in Mellody's terms, "the adapted wounded child." Peck writes,

...For children to develop the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth, and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence.These "possessions" are ideally acquired through the self-discipline and consistent, genuine caring of their parents; they are the most precious gifts of themselves that mothers and fathers can bequeath. When these gifts have not been proffered by one's parents, it is possible to acquire them from other sources, but in that case, the process of their acquisition is invariably an uphill struggle, often of lifelong duration and often unsuccessful.

That uphill, lifelong struggle takes place in the arena of our relationships and their failed intimacy. As Mellody pointed out in her book, Love Addiction and Love Avoidance, the only proper use of the word "abandonment" is in the context of childhood. The child who is without the ability to self-care can, indeed, be abandoned - left with no resources. Adults, who have presumably learned to care for themselves, cannot be abandoned; adults have resources even when they are rejected or disappointed in relationships. Adults are responsible for their own self-care.

The Meadows is pleased to announce several informative free lectures that will be presented throughout the coming summer weeks. These free lectures are open to the community and sponsored by The Meadows in various cities throughout the country. The lectures are targeted to graduates of The Meadows but are also open to the recovery community. Speakers include local therapists familiar with The Meadows' model.

In June there are three lectures to come. On June 23, Amanda Gray, MA, FGA will speak in London, U.K. about Trauma and Spirituality. On June 23, Dr. Janice Blair, PhD will deliver a lecture entitled Good Boundaries for Good Recovery Walking the Fine Line Between Caring and Caretaking in Scottsdale AZ. Finally, Dr. Judith Trenkamp, PhD, CSAT will present Co-Dependency: Roadblocks to Optimum Recovery in West Bloomfield, Michigan as the month ends on June 30.

Many more free lectures on other interesting and informative topics are scheduled throughout July and August also, to be presented in London and in various cities in Arizona, California, New York, Texas, and Washington. For more information about the above-noted or upcoming events, please see the Free Lectures Series schedule.

The Meadows is pleased to announce that James Naughton, who previously worked as a counselor at The Meadows, is now Director of Extended Care. In this role James will now oversee our three extended-care facilities: Mellody House, Dakota and The Meadows Texas.

In James's words, he is "grateful and privileged to be a part of the extended-care team." He expresses his sincerest wish to be "that we continue to provide the best care to our clients."

James says, "The team members I speak of - counselors, psychiatrists, house attendants, nurses, maintenance and plant operators, and housekeepers - all contribute to a safe and contained environment that fosters healing for individuals who have suffered the deleterious effects of trauma. We are all equal and valuable elements in this milieu and, through our commitment and work with the clients, each of us contributes to the possibility that those we serve may discover healing."

You may read more about James's thoughts and experiences during a recent visit to one of our extended-care facilities, in this article from a recent issue of our Cutting Edge newsletter.

Sunday, 20 June 2010 20:00

The Meadows Announces new CEO

On June 14, James Dredge became CEO of The Meadows :

Over the past 30 years, Jim has dedicated himself to the treatment and support of struggling teens and young adults. As a CEO and president, he has successfully built and developed numerous companies that provide behavioral health care and educational services.

Prior to joining The Meadows, Jim was president/COO of Aspen Education Group. Under his leadership, Aspen grew to become the world's largest and most successful behavioral health care company providing therapeutic services to struggling teens and young adults. Jim received his BA and MA degrees from the University of Minnesota, where he graduated magna cum laude.

For more information about The Meadows, please visit our website, or call us at 800-MEADOWS (800-632-3697).

Wednesday, 09 June 2010 20:00

Living Lives of Quiet Desperation

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2004 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.

Living Lives of Quiet Desperation
By Ben Barrentine Jr., MA, CAS

I was scared. I was lonely. I was a little boy. My father was a college professor. My mother was college educated. I have two younger brothers and a younger sister. We had plenty of food and clothes. We got birthday presents. Santa Claus came to see us. We were a very distant family, like ships passing in the night. We rarely hugged. We rarely expressed emotion. We rarely talked about what was going with us as individuals or as a family. I was scared. I was lonely.

I remember that, when I reached puberty, a neighbor boy showed me masturbation. I masturbated a lot. Now I wasn't so scared, and I wasn't so lonely. I found a magazine. It was just an ordinary magazine with a picture of a woman in a bikini. It became my first pornography. I wasn't so scared, and I wasn't so lonely. When I was a sophomore in high school, I started drinking and, from the beginning, I drank alcoholically. I wasn't so scared. I wasn't so lonely.

I masturbated a lot, and I found Playboy, Penthouse, and other porn magazines and books. I drank a lot. I started dating. I got into relationships. I wanted the women to make me happy. I looked at the women the way I looked at the women in the porn - as objects. I would fantasize and lust about the women I was dating in the same way I did the women in the porn magazines and books. After awhile. I could run the porn images in my head. and I no longer had to have the porn magazines and books. I drank a lot. I was scared. I was lonely.

I went to treatment for my alcoholism. When the staff discovered that I did cocaine and marijuana, they said I was a drug addict. I stopped drinking alcohol, but for the next two years, I continued to use cocaine and marijuana. I liked doing cocaine and marijuana with sex. It wasn't until many years later that I realized that it was my sex addiction that kept me in my drug addiction for another two years. I was scared. I was lonely.

With no awareness of my sexual addiction, I got into recovery for my drug addiction. I was still using sex-porn, lusting, looking at women as objects, masturbating lustfully. I was scared. I was lonely.

When I went to treatment for my sexual addiction, I began to get into recovery. I began to learn something about intimacy with myself and other people, not just women - men and women. I began to like myself and to discover who I was - my values, my interests. I began to connect with people on a more intimate level. I wasn't so scared. I wasn't so lonely.

As the facilitator of the "Men's Sexual Compulsivity Recovery Workshop," I have firsthand knowledge of recovery. I first developed this workshop some 10 years ago, before Patrick Carnes joined The Meadows. The workshop builds on the groundbreaking work of Patrick Carnes and Pia Mellody in the areas of sexual addiction and codependence, respectively.

Sexually compulsive people are caught up in sexual addiction: thoughts and behaviors, pornography, lusting, leering, fantasizing, anonymous sex, one-night stands, prostitution, affairs, simultaneous relationships, adult bookstores, etc. They are scared. They are lonely. They are in pain. They feel guilt. They feel shame. They are living lives of quiet desperation - empty on the inside, while on the outside, they may have all the trappings of success.

The "Men's Sexual Compulsivity Recovery Workshop" is an educational and experiential workshop. With a limit of six participants, the workshop is designed to promote changes in the lives of those suffering from sexually obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors.
The workshop explores the cycles of addiction, recovery and relapse.

Individuals have an opportunity to explore their arousal templates - to discover and examine the events and experiences that caused them to act out sexually. They learn how to lead different lives, how to empower themselves in healthy ways. They learn to experience intimacy with the other men in the workshop. They develop a written recovery plan. They are not so scared. They are not so lonely.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Until You Can Love Yourself

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.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 20:00

Spirituality in Everyday Life

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.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010 20:00

Self-Esteem: An Inside Job

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.

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