In recent years there has been an explosion of knowledge about how experience shapes biology and the formation of the self. Within the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology, the study of trauma has probably been the most helpful in understanding the relationship between the emotional, cognitive, social and biological forces that shape human development. Trauma research has revealed new insights about how extreme experiences can profoundly impact memory, affect regulation, biological stress modulation, and interpersonal relatedness. These findings, along with a range of new therapy approaches, have led to new and unexpected ways to help traumatized individuals.
Coming on Friday November 21st to Universal City, California and Monday December 8th to West Palm Beach Florida, Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows and Mellody House will present a lecture titled Trauma, Attachment, and the Body.
This lecture will present current research findings about post-traumatic responses at different developmental levels and in various domains, and will explore the treatment implications of these findings.
For more information on these and other lectures, please visit the events area on the Meadows website.
This article is an excerpt from Maureen’s newly released book, Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding Sexual Addiction and the Road to Healthy Intimacy. For more details, visit themeadows.org.
Sex is one of the most powerful forces in the human condition. It can drive individuals to the pinnacle of emotional and physical ecstasy or, conversely, spiral other people into depths of despair and anguish. The power of sexual energy and expression exists because our sexuality is tied, or connected, to the core of who we are; it is our essence, our life force, our creativity, and our passion.
A sense of self means an inner knowing, a clarity of our true nature or authenticity. In healthy sexual expression, there is desire, connection, and a sense of well-being. The act of expressing one’s self sexually results in a positive, life-enhancing experience; it is an expression of love, an exchange of mutual pleasuring and respect that leads to an intimate connection.
The sexual compulsive person may think this is what he or she is experiencing. However, the opposite is true. Sex for the addict is about intensity, danger, power, and control. It is about emotional numbing, conquering, and getting high. Sex becomes a commodity to be manipulated, a means to a selfdefeating end. Sex and love become a game to play, an avoidance, a push/pull, or a hunger so powerful that the addict will risk everything to reach that sexual high.
No risk or consequence has stopped the addict: disease, financial ruin, lost relationships, legal injunctions, career setbacks, or self-respect. The addict is caught in an intoxicating dance that has induced a delusional reality.
This is the cycle of sex addiction, and it is deadly—not always in physical form, but most assuredly in emotional experience. This “soul” death is temporarily allayed when the addict is on the “hunt” for sex or, at the other extreme, is avoiding sex at all costs. At either end of the spectrum, the addict feels in control and powerful. This is the high, a chemical release that is as addicting as any drug. When these chemicals—or the high— are induced, euphoria washes over the addict, creating the illusion of complete immunity to the realities of his or her internal ache.
Sexual addiction is not a moral issue; it is a coping mechanism born out of the addict’s wounding. The types of wounding can be as diverse as the addicts themselves. Not all addicts are aware of their “wounding,” as abuse or trauma is often covert. When a person is wounded or traumatized, he or she must learn to cope, often without understanding or support. In order to cope or escape their painful realities, addicts may use drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, staying busy, controlling others, or work. Sex addicts escape through sex.
The second half of this book excerpt is available in the September issue of The Cutting Edge.
The Meadows is proud to present the “Pioneers in Recovery” Annual Symposium, including presentations by Pia Mellody; Claudia Black, PhD, MSW; Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT; John Bradshaw, MA; Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD; and Peter A. Levine, PhD. This dynamic event will feature the insights of the speakers as they share their philosophies, treatment techniques, and skills regarding such issues as trauma, addictions, relationships, healthy sexuality, codependence, spirituality, and family systems.
Marriott Plano Dallas
at Legacy Town Center
7120 Dallas Parkway
Plano, TX 750240
Wednesday, Oct. 22 – Special Evening Presentation by John Bradshaw, 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 23 – 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 24 – 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
For more details or to register online, please visit our event page on TheMeadows.org!
I come from a family of worriers, and I’ve done a lot of worrying in my life. I now do it less than ever, but there was a time when I thought I was a “worry addict.” Of course, a feeling of any kind can be “addictive” – we can use one feeling or mood to alter another. That’s how I once used worry. When I obsessed about fearful possibilities or regarded things as more threatening than they were, I didn’t have to feel my loneliness or anger, which was far more frightening than worry. So worry was a way for me to stay in my head and not have to feel my feelings.
Worry begins in childhood, modeled for us by our parents. They nag at us with an endless stream of anxious reminders: “Sit up straight.” “Don’t hold your fork that way.” “Be careful.” Don’t talk to strangers when you leave the house.” Some of these admonitions are good and necessary, but when they’re delivered chronically and inappropriately, they create a sense of terror in a child. And it’s now recognized that these early impressions can have long-term effects.
A New York Times article describing experiments at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stated that a single catastrophic experience occurring when one feels helpless is sufficient to change brain chemistry. The article suggested that it’s as if a rheostat that controls adrenaline release is turned up, creating a surge. In my work, we call this hyper-vigilance, and I believe it can be traced to early childhood fear and terror.
Imagine the impact on a 3-year-old who hears a normally quiet and gentle parent raise his or her voice for the first time. We have probably all been through that. We all undoubtedly carry some ill effects from the experience of having been tiny and powerless in the first six years of our lives – and those ill effects sometimes manifest themselves as worry, depending on the level of anxiety that our parents projected at the time.
The ways we choose to worry are usually the ways we learned from observing our parents. In “awfulizing,” one form of thought distortion, we see the hole and never the doughnut. Most of us are quite unlike the optimistic little boy in the famous story that is supposed to teach us to count our blessings. According to the tale, the child got nothing but donkey dung for Christmas. “I got a donkey,” he is supposed to have exclaimed, “but he got away!” This story has always irritated me, because it’s about somebody who looks on the bright side. This is an attitude I was never fortunate enough to have.
“Catastrophizing” is another species of worry. It is characterized by the mind rushing to the worst possible scenarios. I think of the passage in Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan in which Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan says, “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”
Compulsive worrying takes a tremendous toll on the body because it forces us to live in a constant state of alertness, prepared to fight or run. So it’s important to do something about it. One technique I’ve used is to replace insecure thoughts with secure thoughts. I might ask myself, “What is the best thing that could happen from this experience?” This forces me to think in positive ways. Or I might ask myself to look at occasions in the past that worried me but that had happy outcomes. The most effective tool I’ve used against worry is a slogan that comes from AA: One day at a time. Many years ago, I didn’t know how to live one day at a time. Part of my mind was always in next Thursday, next month, next year. I was always out there in the future, “awfulizing.”
People who aren’t troubled by addictions find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be overcome by worry. They say, “Plan, stupid. Then you don’t have to worry.” But that’s not how it worked with me. My concerns for the future were often so great that they impaired my ability to function in the present. You could say that my hyper-vigilance wore me out physically, while my “awfulizing” drove me to the distraction of alcohol – anything to quiet my fears for just a little while. When I found my way into AA and started to work the 12 Steps, a dedicated daily effort to live in the now finally restored me to sanity. Today I live today. I give my best attention to what I am able to do right now, and I tell myself that I’ll deal with tomorrow when it gets here. And the remarkable thing is that it works. -
- Written by John Bradshaw, MA and featured in the September edition of The Meadows’ Cutting Edge, a Publication for Professionals.
Welcome to Addiction Recovery Reality, the official blogging voice for The Meadows treatment center, a multidisorder inpatient facility based in Wickenberg, Arizona.
The purpose of this blog is to open a window into our world. The Meadows specializes in the treatment of addictions, compulsive behaviors, and anxiety and mood disorders. We also actively participate in the larger addiction community; our senior fellows are recognized worldwide as academics, authors, lecturers and trainers.
This blog will enable us to share more information about the latest trends, resources, articles, announcements, lectures, book releases and workshops. Many entires will be published by The Meadows’ professional staff, but we’re also looking to highlight some ”best of breed” materials from the outside world.
Please stay tuned for our opening posts!