Free Lecture Series - Houston, Texas, August 2, 2011
RELATIONSHIP REBUILDING - WHEN TRAUMA IS UNMASKED by JEANNA GOMEZ, LCSW, LADAC, CPC
The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston
303 Jackson Hill
Houston, Texas 77007
For information on The Meadows or its Houston-based activities,
please contact Melanie Shelnutt, Houston Community Relations Representative, at 877-733-7930 (713-702-7784 local) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in last Sunday's New York Times (May 4th) is as an excellent article titled High Functioning, But Still Alcoholics.
Chronicled by Times writer Jane Brody, the piece reviews a new book from author Sarah Allen Benton, "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" (Praeger Publishers), and describes a familiar scenario:
"high-functioning alcoholics are able to maintain respectable, even high-profile lives, usually with a home, family, job and friends. That balancing act continues until something dreadful happens that reveals the truth - to themselves or to others - and forces the person to enter a treatment program or lose everything that means anything."
An excellent article noted by many here at The Meadows.
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.
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 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.