Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gaining Understanding

I realize I've been over some of this before, but I'm going over it again and again until I understand my own epxerience better.

I've resumed the treatment activities that I started before I moved to Lakeside and the whole job fiasco unfolded. I'm attending intensive outpatient treatment at the local chemical dependency center and so far it's been a wonderful experience. The counselor I have is not attached to the 12 steps as a recovery model and there are many people attending who have no interest in using AA. In our first session she asked me if I had been attending AA and I told her yes, intermittently, but that I didn't feel it helped and actually seemed to exacerbate my anxiety, which has been a major stumbling block in my ability to stay sober. She said, "Well then for god's sake, don't go!" The sense of relief I felt at being heard and understood was huge. The sense of relief I felt at moving forward with my recovery without AA and having the support of my addictions counselor left me sitting there in tears.

I suppose some would wonder why that's such a big deal and I'm going to explain why. I know I'm not alone. When I went through inpatient treatment in 1988, the entire professional staff, who seemed to have a good understanding of addiction as a disease and who skillfully transmitted that information to the patients also offered the 12 steps as the one and only cure for the problem. I desperately wanted to be free from my addictions and I bought into their cure fully, with my whole being. I started the steps, got a sponsor and quit using. For the first two years, I was on medication for depression and anxiety that helped tremendously and I was also in professional counseling. I did pretty well for those years. But when that ended, I was left with AA for support. And this strange thing happened to me: the more I worked the steps, the worse I felt about myself. As my sobriety continued you would have thought I would be feeling more self-esteem, more pride in my accomplishments and more connection to the world as a whole, but that's not what happened to me. I began to feel worse. AA encouraged me to get off the medication that was helping me; it encouraged me to focus entirely on my "character defects" and on correcting all the damage I had caused with my self-centered, egotistical, resentful behavior. It taught me that I was inherently flawed (sound familiar?) and that nothing on earth could save me from myself but a higher power. Because I fully believed in a higher power I began to wonder why I wasn't having the same experience most people seemed to have. And I felt worse, and worse.

Finally I drank. And then what did I have? Nothing. Because I didn't believe that I had kept my own self sober all those years, had no feelings of self-esteem or pride and believed that I was fully lost without the higher power on whom I had been depending, I drank a lot. After all, what was I? A tornado moving through the lives of those I loved most, a selfish woman-child with a head full of resentments and a heart full of guilt. I wasn't worth sobriety and I didn't believe I could do it because for six years I had been told that I couldn't do it.

It's bothersome to me that I had to have someone give me permission to not continue attending AA, that I wasn't able to use my own intuition and common sense to make that decision. But I also realize that's part of my problem, part of my addiction - a lack of trust in myself. And I also realize that I was only trying to use what was available to get well.

Martin Nicolaus, founder of Lifering Secular Recovery, has a new book out called, "Empowering Your Sober Self." Here is an excerpt with which I can fully agree:

"One of the most paralyzing notions that stands in the way of recovery is the belief that you become addicted because of defects in your character. If you believe this, you will have a hard time getting free of addictive substances because character, by definition, is unchangeable; it is who you are.

For many decades now, laboratory animals have been teaching experimenters that this belief is mistaken."

And . .

"People who use addictive substances are notoriously hard on themselves. The reason is partly that the world is hard on people whose substance use has become too obvious, and we internalize those value judgments. There are elements in the traditional recovery protocol that reinforce these negative judgments."


thailandchani said...

Was it actually permission you wanted or validation that there was something else that worked?

Sometimes that can be a fuzzy line.


Angela said...

It was permission. I already knew there were other things that worked, although I hadn't been able to get any of them to work for me for very long. I think because I was expecting something outside me to fix me. Now I get it. It's up to me. Thanks, Chani.

Sherri said...

I'm glad you're feeling empowered to get where you want to go.

big Jenn said...

I've always hated the phrase"character defects".I have plenty of crappy ideas about myself going on without someone saying THAT!Jeez! Listen to your heart.jeNN