The Meadows Blog

Thursday, 20 December 2012 19:00

The Christmas Blues

It is paradoxical, but the Christmas season, a time that should be filled with compassion, empathy and joy, is a time when many people are sad and depressed. This phenomena is so widespread that it has been named the Christmas (holiday) blues.

Ask any practicing psychotherapist and they will tell you that they see a disproportionate number of emotionally disturbed and/or depressed clients during the Christmas holidays than at any other time of the year. Since drinking and holiday cheer are so acceptable, alcoholics and other drug or food addicts tend to act out extensively during this season. I'll return to this last point in a moment.

No one knows when Jesus Christ was actually born. Traditions point to December the twenty-fifth, a time which corresponds to the onset of winter. No one knows why the celebration of Jesus' birth was early on enmeshed with pagan festivals of light, dealing with the onset of winter.

Winter is the season when days grow shorter and there is less sunshine. Winter is the season when darkness has it's dominant rule.

Sunlight is essential for both our physical and emotional health. In winter cold, dark dreary days are commonplace. The pagan festivals of light were intended to confront the darkness. In Christianity this combat was taken over by decorated Christmas trees and landscaped lawns with lighted trees. The lights and festive brightness symbolizes that Christ the Savior is the light of the world and has triumphed over the darkness of sin. Why then the Christmas Blues and depression?

The darkness itself and loss of sunlight is one reason given to explain larger numbers of depressed people during the winter months.

Another reason for the blues comes from the loss of our "magical childhoods". We gradually have to give up the magical belief that a wonderful caring old man with a sled full of toys will fuel the energy of eight tiny reindeer to fly over rooftops, and bring us toys.

The loss of "magical beliefs" is sad and we will also have to deal with the loss of other magical beliefs (like the fact that we will die and go to a wonderful place called Heaven). No one really knows anything about death or dying. As the years go by we experience suffering and the loss of loved ones; grandparents, parents, siblings and dear friends. We especially remember lost loved ones because Christmas is a time of love and joy. As grown-ups we cannot explain why nature natures (why hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods) happen. Being an adult means leaving the magic of childhood.

If you grew up in a family where your parents were emotionally immature and childish, they could act out their suppressed rage, resentments and other unresolved wounds on each other or on other members of your extended family. I counseled people who dreaded seeing their in-laws and relatives at Christmas.

I mentioned earlier that alcoholics and other types of drug addicts act out during the Christmas holidays more than at other times of the year. If you are a child of an alcoholic (like myself) your memories of Christmas can be very painful. I can only think of one really happy Christmas during my childhood. We were also very poor, but I would have traded my toys any day for family peace, love and the absence of anxiety, shame and tension.

Like many children of alcoholics, I became a drinking alcoholic myself. I began binge drinking and having alcoholic "black outs" (periods of anmesia) at age sixteen. I can remember being drunk a large part of every Christmas season til I reached my bottom on Dec. 11, 1965. I spent eight days in the locked ward of Austin State hospital. I got out a few days before Christmas and enjoyed the most intimate time I had ever had with my family.

Sobering up during the holidays was great for me and my family. Many people thing of the Christmas holidays as the worst time to reach out for help; to do an intervention; or to go into treatment. In fact it is one of the best times. We can give our loved ones no greater Christmas gift than a sober recovering self. And for treatment centers that have family week, nothing can replace a family connecting (often) for the first time in an intimate embrace of support and love. Some of my most powerful memories are the "family week" at my former hospital in Ingleside California or at The Meadows where I am now. I encourage those of you who are using and/or depressed during the Christmas holidays to focus on the major source of your blues. The poet says "if winter comes, can spring be far behind?" You can recapture some of your magical childhood by letting your inner childlike self create new traditions and new family rituals. It's certainly okay to grieve for your deceased family members, just put some boundaries on your grieving. Life is so fragile and subject to fate and unexpected tragedy, don't let this time for celebration and love pass you by!

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Sunday, 07 October 2012 20:00

The Role of Shame in Addiction

Addiction has been defined as a pathological relationship to any mood altering substance, experience, relationship or thing that has life damaging consequences. Addiction is pathological because it is rooted in denial. There is no other disease that the worse it gets the more the patient denies they have it. It is also clear that a person rarely has just one addiction. A vast number of addicts move to another addiction when they stop the addiction they were in. Some of this can be attributed to genetic predisposition, but the more critical factor is internalized shame. Shame is an innate feeling that monitors our propensity towards avidity, especially our curiosity, interest and pleasure. Shame also guards our privacy (acting as covering for our physical and emotional decency). As a covering for our emotional decency, shame safeguards our dignity and honor. No feeling is more important to our sense of self than shame. When our privacy and sense of self is unduly violated because of abandonment and abuse of any kind, the feeling of shame is ruptured. We are completely vulnerable (without any covering) and cannot defend ourselves. We stop feeling shame, we become chronically ashamed. The more this happens the more we experience our identity as flawed and defective. As Shame becomes internalized we develop a shame-based identity. The majority of addicts are shame based. To stop drinking alcohol puts an end to an alcoholic's addiction, but it does not stop the person's addictiveness which is rooted in their shamed based identity.

Initially the rupturing of shame happens within a context involving a significant other. Abandonment, neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse are forms of rejection and leave their victim feeling unwanted, undesirable and personally flawed. The abuser transfers their own shame to the abused who carries their shame. Ruptured shamed is "carried or toxic shame." All abuse transfers shame, but when a child is shamed for having a feeling (any feeling) that feeling is bound in shame. The same is true for one's needs and wants, so that when a growing child wants or desires or needs something, they are shamed for it. Once a child goes to school and ventures into the world, there are myriads of dangerous people who are potential sources of shame. The shaming that went on in my catholic elementary school was horrible. Kids learn early on that they are compared to the kids that are handsome and good looking; they learn how obsessively important sports are and many learn that they just don't measure up. One of the processes of shaming is measurement. Slow learners (often because of slower development) are shamed both at school and at home for not measuring up. Children quickly learn about money and experience shame if their family is low income. We live in a culture of vicious shame.

Young girls easily develop shame because of their gender, and God help the gay, lesbian and transgendered. They are not only socially shamed but they are told that God judges them. Over fifty-five years of teaching and counseling I've seen many addicts whose shame was sealed by the forces I've just described.

A shame-based addict feels flawed and defective in their very being. To feel that way is to feel hopeless. This awful sense of humiliation pushes the addiction into hiding and forces them to find a false self to cover up. This hiding is so crucial, since the wound of toxic shame happens because the shamed person was uncovered and defenseless with each wound of being shamed. The hiding and cover up constitute the essence of the addicts core pathology - the denial.

The hopelessness of the shame-based addict is why they find it so hard to seek help, and most only do when the paid of their denial is so great. This usually occurs when they've reached several life damaging consequences (they get fired from their job, their spouse files for divorce, they lose all their money, or they are involved in a scandal . . .) Letting an addict get to their pain is an important strategy. When they are in pain and their life is in chaos, the addict is willing to bear their shame and come out of hiding. To heal their toxic shame they have to embrace their shame. They have to come out of hiding and let another person know how bad they feel and the things they've done. For example, the first step of the A.A. program asks the suffering addict to admit that they feel powerless and that their life is unmanageable. Going to an A.A. meeting and identifying oneself as an alcoholic is the first step in owning one's "being shame", that deep inner sense of being flawed and defective. Addicts often feel ashamed of something they did while drinking, drugging, sexing etc. But I call that their meta shame. Their addiction is an attempt to mood alter (block out) their "being shame", their shame based identity. With the first step, the admission of flaws and defectiveness in a public meeting such as AA allows the addict to own their deep shame. In my book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, part II, chapter 5, I've gone through an analysis of how the steps restore the addict to a healthy sense of self. The steps take the addict to a moral inventory (Step 4) where they can connect with their guilt. Guilt is based on the same precisely written biological program as shame, but it is at a higher level of maturity (frequently referred to as morality shame). Guilt lacks hopelessness. Guilt is the guardian of conscience and motivates one to make amends, to repair the damage their addiction has created. Step 4 through Step 9 restores the addict to a healthy sense of guilt as morality shame. A clear sign of progress in recovery is that a person has developed a healthy "sense of shame". The philosopher Nietzsche said, everyone needs a "sense of shame but nobody needs to be ashamed". Every Indo- European language has two words for shame. One is defined as a "sense of shame";: Pudor (Latin), Eidos (Greek), Pudeur (French), Scham (German), and the other as humiliation or disgrace: Foedus (Latin, Aischyne (Greek), Honte (French), Schande (German).

We need a sense of shame. After working on guilt and making amends, the addict embraces Step 10 which is a maintenance step, ever reminding the recovering addict of the cunning power of toxic shame. The tenth step says, "we continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it". This is the sense of shame at work. No shame based person wants to admit any defect or vulnerability. The final two steps in the 12 steps have to do the humble admission of a power greater that ourselves. God as we understand God. It asks the recovering person to take action and reach out to other addicts who need help. For some working the 12 Step program and disciplining themselves to go to meetings (knowing that part of the addictiveness disease is a tendency to isolation and hiding) is enough. For many it is not. Addictiveness is rooted in the toxic carried shame caused by abandonment, neglect and all forms of abuse. The inner toxic "carried" shame has resulted from the trauma of their abandonment, neglect and abuse. For most these damaging behaviors are defined as post-traumatic stress disorder. The scenes that carry early traumatic abuse have to be grieved. The developmental dependency needs that should have been developed were passed over. The deep hurts and traumas of the past show themselves in serious intimacy dysfunction. I've watched and listened to folks, working good 12 step programs, who had serious intimacy problems.

Many people have to do more if they want to heal their addictiveness. I call the trauma healing, grief work "original pain" or family of origin work. It involves going back to the shame scenes where their serious abuse took place, legitimizing their pain and beginning a grief process. I'm in my forty-seven year of sobriety and almost every person I've coached, sponsored, or did therapy with, fell off the wagon or developed a new addiction who failed to do this "original pain", family of origin feeling work.

What is being called the New Paradigm is directly saying the same thing. The obsession with behaviorism or cognitive "talk therapy" has shown their limitations in dealing with addicts. Whatever else their value may be, it has failed in offering addicts, true (second order) change. First order change is a new way behaving within a given way of behaving. I know people who are addicted to AA. This is surely better than their life of alcoholism, but they are not differentiated. They do not hear their own voice when they make decisions. Some are still horribly co-dependent. The "carried" toxic shame that lies in the guts of their identity is still a black hole that they must compulsively fill. To be free we need to grieve those old wounds, develop the ego strengths we missed because of our abuse and take charge of our own personal power. Second order change transcends the old ways and stops our compulsivity. It's an unbelievable joy to be free of the burden of compulsivity. And there's nothing more important than achieving the possession of your one and only life so that "when death finds you, it finds you alive."

Mr. Bradshaw has enjoyed a long association with The Meadows as a Senior Fellow, giving insights to staff and patients, speaking at alumni retreats, lecturing to mental health professionals at workshops and seminars, and helping to shape its cutting-edge treatment programs. His New York Times best-selling books include Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Creating Love, and Healing the Shame That Binds You.

The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows' work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit www.themeadows.com.

For over 35 years, The Meadows has been a leading trauma and addiction treatment center. In that time, they have helped more than 20,000 patients in one of their three inpatient centers and 25,000 attendees in national workshops. The Meadows world-class team of Senior Fellows, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors treat the symptoms of addiction and the underlying issues that cause lifelong patterns of self-destructive behavior. The Meadows, with 24 hour nursing and on-site physicians and psychiatrists, is a Level 1 psychiatric hospital that is accredited by the Joint Commission.

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The Meadows Senior Fellow, John Bradshaw, presented at the Ben Franklin Institute's Brain Matters: Mindfulness, Trauma and Process Addictions Conference that was held on Sept. 27 - 29 in Atlanta, GA at The Marriot Marquis Hotel. Bradshaw conducted two workshops on "Effective Therapy: A Major Force in Enhancing Moral Development" and "How to Reduce the Reactivity and PTSD Symptoms of Childhood Trauma" on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Bradshaw is a world-famous educator, counselor, motivational speaker, television personality, author, and one of the leading figures in the fields of addiction, recovery, family systems and the concept of toxic shame. He pioneered the concept of the Inner Child, and brought the term "dysfunctional family" into the mainstream. Bradshaw has had a long association with The Meadows giving insights to staff, patients, speaking at alumni retreats and lecturing to mental health professionals at The Meadows" workshops and seminars.

The following are photos of John Bradshaw taken at the conference.

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The Meadows' Senior Fellow, John Bradshaw, will be a keynote speaker at the Art of Recovery Expo in Phoenix, Ariz., on September 22 at the Phoenix Convention Center. The event hours are from 10:00am - 5:00pm with Bradshaw's keynote address beginning at 10:00. This event is free and open to the public.

Bradshaw's keynote address will focus on his book Healing the Shame That Binds You and the chapter "Twelve Steps for Transforming Toxic Shame into Healthy Shame." As Bradshaw said, "I owe my life to participating in a 12-Step program."

The Expo offers education and resources for addictions and behavioral health issues with an emphasis on adolescent, young adult and family recovery. In addition to Bradshaw, Herschel Walker, former NFL running back, 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, and mental health advocate, will also deliver a keynote address. For more information about the expo, visit www.artofrecovery.com.

John Bradshaw is a world-famous educator, counselor, motivational speaker, television personality, author, and one of the leading figures in the fields of addiction, recovery, family systems and the concept of toxic shame. Bradshaw has had a long association with The Meadows giving insights to staff, patients, speaking at alumni retreats and lecturing to mental health professionals at The Meadows' workshops and seminars.

"Not only are we pleased to support the Art of Recovery Expo as a Platinum Sponsor, but we are thrilled that John Bradshaw is one of the keynote speakers along with Herschel Walker," said Jim Dredge, CEO of The Meadows.

The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows' work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit www.themeadows.com.

For over 35 years, The Meadows has been a leading trauma and addiction treatment center. In that time, they have helped more than 20,000 patients in one of their three inpatient centers and 25,000 attendees in national workshops. The Meadows world-class team of Senior Fellows, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors treat the symptoms of addiction and the underlying issues that cause lifelong patterns of self-destructive behavior. The Meadows, with 24 hour nursing and on-site physicians and psychiatrists, is a Level 1 psychiatric hospital that is accredited by the Joint Commission.

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Over the years, I've had several persons who wanted my counseling, whom I found ravished with shame that manifested in an unusual kind of grandiosity. I connected with them because I have it in a different way myself. Over the years, I came to recognize what I call "reverse grandiosity." Sometimes after I had been working the 12 step program (at least five years), I noticed that details of my story had changed. Instead of sneaking out of Catholic seminary (where I was studying for the Catholic priesthood) and walking ten (sometimes 15, once even 20) miles to buy my drug of choice, I was really only walking three blocks! Ten to 15 miles make the story sound more dramatic and made my addiction worse that I really was. I wanted to make it sound worse. In fact I wanted to be the "best worst" in the program. Being the "best worst" was my "reverse grandiosity." I was the Star, Hero child in my dysfunctional family (capitalized because of the family systems need to have its shame diminished).

The clients whom I recognized with "reverse grandiosity" were somewhat different. They were people who claimed that their problems were so complex and unusual that no one had been able to help them. One man expressed it as clearly as possible. He said, "I';m just here to have someone to talk to, my problem is too unique to be alleviated by therapy." In other words, I'm special that I'm beyond what any humanly designed system of therapy can do. I let him rattle on and offered a follow-up visit. When he returned, I told him that after reflecting on his last visit, I found him pretty boring and quite ordinary. He became enraged when I called him ordinary. He started quickly enumerating every possible abuse that he had endured.

When he ran out of steam, I told him "you take pride in your abuse; you've made it sacred and in so doing make yourself superior to everyone else." These truths stung and my client kept coming back. I relentlessly called him ordinary, and one day he broke down crying. He told me how scared and small he felt. He said he realized that his idealization and attachment to his abuse made him feel like he was somebody superior. I took him to a 12 step meeting where he was introduced to the concept of anonymity. He soon realized that there were people of every sort in the group - men, women, rich, poor, middle class, lawyers, university professors, artists, laborers, mothers raising children, even a priest and two ministers. All had the same addiction and while their stories differed in details and they had different IQs, their common problem was the same - they had to stop using the drug they were addicted to that had caused their lives to become unmanageable. We were all simply ordinary human beings ravaged by drug addiction.

Anonymity is the great spiritual gift of the 12 step program. A Tibetan monk, Tara Tulku Rinpoche once said "the intensity of our sorrow will vary in direct proportion to the intensity of our feeling that "I am important.""

The practice of anonymity is the practice of being nobody special and that is the essence of humility. After 46 years of being free from my addiction, I can testify to the fact that those who know they are nobody special are busy doing the work that all ordinary humans are called to do in order to flourish. Gandhi constantly attested to being an average, ordinary person. When Erik Erikson wrote Gandhi's Truth (an autobiographical account) he found that Gandhi's wife and children attested to his flaws and his demanding profections of perfection on them.

Anonymity asks us to give up the idea and energy of trying to be special and different (so that we can be set apart from our fellow humans). Accepting being nobody special freed me from having to live up to demanding images. It freed me to do something I didn't have to work at, just being myself. Think of what you could let go of and the energy you would have if you stop trying to be somebody special, separate from the rest of us. Take on the amazing spiritual gift of anonymity and allow yourself to relish in the freedom of being ordinary.

Mr. Bradshaw has enjoyed a long association with The Meadows as a Senior Fellow, giving insights to staff and patients, speaking at alumni retreats, lecturing to mental health professionals at workshops and seminars, and helping to shape its cutting-edge treatment programs. His New York Times best-selling books include Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Creating Love, and Healing the Shame That Binds You.

The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows' work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit www.themeadows.com.

For over 35 years, The Meadows has been a leading trauma and addiction treatment center. In that time, they have helped more than 20,000 patients in one of their three inpatient centers and 25,000 attendees in national workshops. The Meadows world-class team of Senior Fellows, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors treat the symptoms of addiction and the underlying issues that cause lifelong patterns of self-destructive behavior. The Meadows, with 24 hour nursing and on-site physicians and psychiatrists, is a Level 1 psychiatric hospital that is accredited by the Joint Commission.

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