Pain: Healing, Growth, and Awareness
Emotional pain often brings people into therapy and/or recovery. This may be the pain of depression, another relationship ending badly, or finally hitting rock bottom. Addiction, in a very real sense, is used to not feel pain. However, in the end, addiction creates more pain than it avoids. Entering therapy or recovery is often seen as a path towards no longer feeling this pain. However, true healing and recovery asks us to feel and accept our pain. It is through the experience of feeling our pain that we receive many of the gifts that support our healing and recovery.
Dave and his experience in healing and recovery is an example of how feeling pain is an important part of the healing journey. Dave sits in my office with tears sliding down his cheeks. We are exploring his childhood experiences and the reality of what growing up in his family was like. Through his quivering lips, he spits out "I've been working on this for so long. You start talking about my family and I'm back here in all this pain again. Why am I stuck?"
Feeling pain, especially pain connected to traumatic events from childhood, is often interpreted as "being stuck." After all, it is easy to believe that "if I was not stuck, I would not be feeling this pain." This is not the case! Pain is a normal and healthy human emotion. Pain is an emotion to be felt and understood. Pain is an emotion that helps to guide us in life. Pain is an emotion that has gifts to offer us: healing, growth, and awareness. Feeling pain does not mean we are stuck. Quite the contrary, it often means we are doing good healing work.
Dave originally came into my office struggling with addiction. He held tightly to his outward persona which he unconsciously used to hide his pain, shame, and core self from the rest of the world. On the surface, Dave's family of origin looked wonderful, nurturing, and loving. Dave believed that whatever struggles he had were surely about him and his own "defectiveness." He projected to the world the image of someone who had moved through life with seeming ease but about every 6 months or so, Dave would be overwhelmed by pain and spend hours crying to himself, unsure of where this pain was coming from. At the same time, his addiction was gaining momentum and the unmanageability of his life was becoming more apparent.
In therapy, we initially addressed Dave's addiction and helped him to create a support community. Then, we dug into Dave's history and the emotional pain that drives his addiction. Seeing his family and childhood experiences in the light of reality was not easy for Dave. Slowly, he started to see his parents as loving but wounded. He began to understand how their wounds impacted him and limited what they were able to offer to him. Dave started to see that he was not "defective" but wounded.
Dave initially dropped into his pain around his father. Over a number of tear-filled sessions, he explored, accepted, confronted, and started holding boundaries around his father's wounds. Dave had finally dropped into his pain and allowed it to guide him into his healing and growth related to his father. Issues related to his father still come up. At times, Dave feels accepting of his past and at others he feels anger. However, the awareness that Dave received by opening up to his pain and accepting the realty of his father set this process in motion and continues to solidify his recovery.
Dave still feels pain but it no longer seeps out every 6 months in overwhelming bursts. His pain, as opposed to signaling he is stuck, is a signal that he is healing. Dave's pain guided him to uncover and recognize the shame he had been carrying from his father. Feeling his pain and allowing it to guide him in his work has allowed Dave to be less reactive to his father as well as accept his father for who he truly is, a wounded man who loves Dave but is often unable or does not know how to show this. When pain comes up for Dave around his father, he is able to embrace whatever new understanding about his father and their relationship is being offered to him. He no longer stuffs his pain and acts out his addiction to avoid it; Dave now feels his pain, observes his reactions, and uses the tools he has learned in recovery to take care of himself.
Pia Mellody talks about the gifts we receive from all emotions, even the uncomfortable ones. Dave is experiencing and taking advantage of the gifts we receive from pain: healing, growth, and awareness. This process started for Dave when he started to FEEL his pain. Previously he had used his addiction to numb his pain, lived in a fantasy to pretend his pain did not exist, and stuffed his pain by putting on a "good face" to show the world. Now that he is in recovery, lives in reality, and allows himself to be known, he is healing, growing, and learning.
Pain guides us in our journey and helps us in our own self care. It gives us information about ourselves, our situation, and the people around us. Pain lets us know where our wounds are, when the wounds of others are being acted out on us, and helps us to slow down and truly understand the situation. When we stuff our pain or pretend it is not there, we unnecessarily handicap ourselves. Stuffing our pain is like walking around in a pitch black room with our arms at our sides. The chances of us walking face first into the wall greatly increase! With our arms out, we are better able to find the walls without hurting ourselves. Successfully finding the walls allows us to get an understanding of the room's dimensions or, in others words, the reality of the room. With our arms out, we can adjust to the situation. The same is true of our pain. As we feel our pain, we get an understanding of the reality of the situation and can adjust to it.
As we feel the wall, we stop walking to save our nose from a damaging encounter. Similarly, feeling our pain allows us to adjust our own interactions and self care. We may put up our boundaries. We may recognize the reality of another person and shift what we share and/or take in from them. We may leave the situation.
With our arms out, we naturally move more cautiously, keeping ourselves more balanced even though we haven't felt anything. As we open ourselves to pain, a similar experience happens. Even when we do not feel pain, we are more aware of how we take care of ourselves. Whether this is meditation, exercise, journaling, phone calls, meetings, therapy, or rigorous honesty, we keep our self care regiment in place more easily when we are open to feeling our pain. And when pain emerges to help us see more clearly ourselves or our situation, we can fall back on this self care regiment and add to it as necessary. There are many gifts we receive when we are willing to feel our pain.
As Dave sits in my office, feeling his pain, and wondering why he is stuck, I look at him with caring and love. With all the compassion I can offer I say, "You are not stuck. You are more open to your feelings, especially pain. And you are taking advantage of the healing, growth, and awareness that pain gives you. You have used all of this in exploring and learning about your relationship with your dad. But today we are exploring the more subtle wounds you have from your mother. You have opened yourself to this process before and you have developed tools to help you to do this type of work. I'll be here with you as your pain allows you to heal, grow, and understand your relationship with your mother. This pain is your guide - embrace it!"
Tim Stein is a Marriage and Family Therapist based in Santa Rosa, CA. His specialties include sex addiction and developmental trauma. Tim works with individuals, couples, families, and groups as well as providing presentations in the areas of sexual addiction, relationships, and developmental trauma.
The Meadows Proudly Participates in UKESAD 2011 - London, England
What a tremendous experience we had in London! The Meadows Senior Staff spent the week of May 16th at the 8th Annual UK/EUROPEAN SYMPOSIUM ON ADDICTIVE DISORDERS - better known as the UKESAD 2011 Conference. The conference brought together some of the top minds in the world of addiction treatment and provided an opportunity to network and exchange national and international knowledge with more than 500 attendees.
On Friday, May 20, 2011 Meadows Senior Fellows; Pia Mellody, RN and Shelley Uram, MD co-presented the Plenary Session. The presentation titled "FACING CODEPENDENCE: WHAT IT IS, WHERE IT COMES FROM AND HOW IT SABOTAGES OUR LIVES" addressed the effects of childhood boundary violations on adult behaviors, including codependent adults lacking skills to mature or enjoy healthy relationships - personal or professional. Dr. Uram discussed the effects of Childhood Trauma on the Brain and further how those early traumas are stored to negatively affect our developmental maturity leading to co-dependent behaviors and addictions.
In addition to our Senior Fellows, our CEO, Jim Dredge, was on hand to meet and greet attendees throughout the conference. People lined up to a book signing by Pia Mellody of her best selling work. Dr. Shelley Uram hosted an Alumni Lecture titled: Understanding Trauma and the Brain, which attracted a standing only crowd! Another very popular event was The Meadows Raffle; to which a lucky winner - Alistar Richardson of London - received an I Pad Generation 2 with 32G.
There were some newsworthy issues addressed, including a review of the "Payment by Results" plan proposed by the British Government. This plan would overhaul the reimbursement to alcohol and drug programs by basing reimbursement on treatment effectiveness. This is an issue the U.S. is also debating right now so the U.K outcomes will be interesting to watch.
The experience we had at UKESAD was stimulating and thought provoking. We are already looking forward to next years’ conference.
The Meadows co-sponsors the 22nd Annual International Trauma Conference in Boston, May 18-22, 2011
Conference Director and Senior Fellow at The Meadows, Bessel van der Kolk, MD, has been bringing together leaders in the field of neuroscience for this dynamic conference for the past 22 years. Last week presenters Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD, Julian D. Ford, PhD, Richard C. Schwartz, PhD, Judith L. Herman, MD, Adele Diamond, PhD, FRSC and many others, as well as 700 attendees came together in Boston to examine cutting-edge treatment interventions for various trauma-based symptoms. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, closed the conference with a presentation on Mindfulness, Healing, and Transformation.
The Meadows has been a proud sponsor of the International Trauma Conference and the Trauma Center in Boston, Massachusetts, for the past six years. We join Dr. van der Kolk's team in supporting a cutting-edge program of research and mind-body approaches to help trauma survivors recover with empowerment and dignity.
The Meadows, America's premier center for the treatment of addiction and trauma, is pleased to present a series of videos featuring Dr. Jerry Boriskin discussing post-traumatic stress disorder and complex PTSD.
In the second installment of this 10-part series, Dr. Boriskin, senior fellow at The Meadows and leading expert in the treatment of PTSD and co-occurring disorders, addresses the most complicated form of the disorder: complex PTSD.
"Essentially, complex PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder that affects multiple dimensions of functioning," he explains, adding that complex PTSD can affect one's interpersonal relationships, spiritual system, perceptions, and even biology.
Other videos in this series focus on treating PTSD and co-occurring disorders, evidence-based treatment methods, and long-term treatment of PTSD.
Dr. Boriskin is an author, lecturer, and clinician with expertise in trauma, PTSD, and addictive disorders. He began his career in 1979, when PTSD emerged as a diagnosis. In the mid-1980s, he began working with sexual abuse survivors and addicts. An early advocate of extended care, he developed two extended-care residential treatment programs for co-occurring disorders. He authored PTSD and Addiction: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Counselors and co-authored At Wit's End: What Families Need to Know When A Loved One is Diagnosed with Addiction and Mental Illness.
To view the videos in The Meadows series, see www.youtube.com/themeadowswickenburg. For more about The Meadows’ innovative treatment program for PTSD and other disorders, see www.themeadows.org or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.
The Meadows is pleased to present its ongoing series of videos on addiction and trauma; the series features some of the most influential figures in the mental health field, including Maureen Canning, John Bradshaw, and Dr. Jerry Boriskin, among others.
In the second video of her series, Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT, clinical consultant and senior fellow at The Meadows, discusses the nature of sexual addiction and trauma in women.
"Sexual addiction, unlike other addictions, is based in shame," she explains. "Sex addicts have a sense of self that is very diminished. They feel worthless at the core of who they are. The feel as if they don't deserve love."
She goes on to explain that most sexual addictions are rooted in childhood trauma - and that trauma causes disruptions in psychosexual development.
"When the child grows up, they want to undo that original trauma, and so they start to act out," Ms. Canning says. "And when they act out, they re-create the original behavior."
In addition to her role as senior fellow at The Meadows, Ms. Canning is a clinical consultant at Dakota, an extended-care facility dedicated exclusively to the treatment of sexual addiction and trauma. Her extensive clinical experience includes individual, couples, and family counseling; workshops; lectures; educational trainings; and interventions. She is the author of Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding Sexual Addiction and The Road to Healthy Intimacy.
In other videos in the series, Ms. Canning discusses such topics as the nature of healthy sexuality, how sexual addiction can kill, and what partners of sex addicts need to know. View the entire series of The Meadows' videos at www.youtube.com/themeadowswickenburg. For more information about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for addictions and trauma, see www.themeadows.org or call The Meadows at 888-888-8888.