Thursday, January 31, 2008

Humility: Learning to Ask for Help

One characteristic of alcoholics/addicts is the need for perfection. One of the things we fear most is being wrong, or making a mistake, which makes it very difficult to ask for help. The notion that we should know things before anyone ever told us or taught us seems to be inherent in us. Often as children if we made a mistake we were cruelly criticized or ridiculed. This created a belief that we didn’t deserve help, and if we asked for it we were weak or stupid.

Many of us tend to put the needs of everyone else first. It is okay for others to need help but when it comes to us, often we believe that asking for help is an admission of failure. It is terrifying to be vulnerable and to expose our potential limitations. Putting the needs of others first and being the “go to” person helps us to feel powerful and in control.

In recovery we learn that we don't have to face life’s challenges on our own. Humility is about asking others for help with issues that trouble us. It should not be confused with humiliation; it is not a lack of self confidence or a weakness. To ask for help when we fear ridicule, to recognize that we have limitations and honestly reveal them, that is a testament to our strength and courage.

For us to recover we need to dare to be ordinary and to make mistakes, instead of being perfect and correct at all times. Twelve-step programs provide the tools and the support for this important process. However, many of us may gain insight and awareness but still remain resistant, unable to accept our humanness. Our life history and experience may be too painful to tackle alone, and our perfectionism may be keeping us stuck, unable to move forward in our recovery. Private or group counseling may be necessary to get us to face and let go of our past and the first step toward the practice of humility.

True humility is an essential ingredient to A Sober Mind. It enables us to honestly see the reality of who we are. It reminds us of where we came from, where we are now and all that is possible in the future.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Secrets: The Chains That Bind Us

I have often heard at 12 step meetings we are only as sick as our secrets. Some of the secrets we keep are purposeful and we keep them to protect ourselves or our loved ones. Things like over drinking or drug abuse in us or others and the consequences, like loss of job, verbal, emotional, sexual or physical abuse to name a few.

Some secrets we don’t even know we are keeping, like our childhood experiences or the quality of our lives or our relationships. Many of us have no frame of reference and believe that we had a great childhood or the relationship we have with our parents, partners or children is a close and happy one, or at the very least adequate. If any thoughts of dissatisfaction come to mind we push them away and feel ashamed and guilty for having them. What kind of a child hates their parents? Or what kind of parent is not pleased with their child? What kind of a partner is angry and disappointed with their relationship? Our conflicted feelings cause a progressive distortion in our thinking and reality. Many of us deny our feelings because often it’s the very people we should be able to trust who are hurting and betraying us. Allowing those secrets into our consciousness is shameful and painful.

The important thing is to be able to share our secret concerns, fears and shameful feelings in a safe environment. Confiding in a trusted friend or counselor is the first step to freeing ourselves from the denial that enslaves us. In the 12 step programs we learn that protecting loved ones from exposure and keeping their secret is enabling them to remain in their disease and prevents them from realizing they need help. We perpetuate the illusion that their harmful behavior as a result of drinking or using drugs is okay. Keeping secrets cause us to be lonely, isolated and in our own self imposed prison. By finding a safe place or person to reveal our secrets we can start to become aware of those secrets we don’t know we are keeping.
Shedding light on our secrets requires a great deal of courage but it is an essential step toward a sober mind, and personal liberation.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Grief and Loss: Learning To Sing In the Shower

When most people think about grief and loss it is usually associated with the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or the termination of a job. But living with alcoholism or addiction can also cause significant loss. Unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and the reality of who we are or who our loved one is can cause great sadness. A significant number of alcoholics or addicts also come from alcoholic homes, and we start grieving losses as small children, even though we may not be aware of it. Then, as adults, life becomes a continuous series of losses and disappointments, which we tend to minimize and accept as the norm.

This constant state of grief and loss is very real and never goes away. The disease of addiction deprives us of our confidence and self worth. It makes it difficult to anticipate anything good in life or to believe we have the right to be happy or feel proud of our accomplishments. In dealing with loss, alcoholics/addicts often use a great deal of energy to try to fix the pain and distance themselves from it. Some of us strive for perfection in all aspects of our lives or bury ourselves in work or keep buying the next thing that will make us happy. We aim to be joyous and free but are continuously frustrated in our attempts. For some the disappointment and sense of failure of those frustrated attempts can lead to relapse.

Because this type of grief is stressful and persistent, we need to be continuously taking care of ourselves. The HALT acronym can help us with this. Asking ourselves, am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, will give us a quick handle on what needs attention. Eating healthy meals and getting enough rest, as well as participating in a twelve step and/or other support group or professional counseling to share your feelings is crucial to accepting, surviving and ultimately overcoming the effects of grief and loss.

The twelve step programs have taught me that serenity is not the absence of pain; it is the acceptance of pain. It is necessary to accept our losses as real and not to minimize them or dramatize them. We need to learn to use our energy to embrace reality and not try to change it. The pain of our loss is real and sufficient and we are entitled to experience it. In so doing we will be free to enjoy the simple things in life, like singing in the shower.