Recovery is Discovery
Eight years ago, when I had just completed by first two years in recovery from Chronic Alcoholism, I was approached by an elderly, wise woman, who, on hearing of my having completed two years in recovery, suggested that I was now in position to “really start my recovery”!
I was a bit offended my this. I felt she was intimating that my first two years in recovery were not really recovery.
I reacted in an adverse way, stating I was more than happy with my recovery “thank you very much!” and would continue to simply do it the AA way, the 12 steps and traditions. I had a spiritual awakening by this stage and thought her rude to suggest I needed additional help.
But she was right, I do need more help, much more additional help.
I was not born a fully fledged alcoholic, I was born with a pre-disposition towards alcoholism.
The genetics I inherited from both parents contributed, but the fertile soil of all my later addictive behaviours, and there are a few (certainly more than I thought), was my traumatic upbringing in a dysfunctional family.
What the wise elderly woman was suggesting was that I start attending Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families meeting, knowing that not only was my father alcoholic (sober but not recovered, “dry drunk”) and my mother was dependent of Valium but that, evident from my AA “shares” over the past two years, that I have been reared in a very dysfunctional family.
Looking back now eight years later, it seems rather unfortunate that this elderly woman had not rephrased this suggestion somewhat. Perhaps if she had said there was a stage 2 recovery after initial recovery from alcoholism, which dealt with some of the primary reasons why we became alcoholics in the first place I might have listened more?
Perhaps what she was suggesting was too threatening and I wasn’t ready, perhaps my unconscious was revolting at such an idea?
As they say in AA, “it takes time to realise it takes time”.
For me this means it has taken a further eight years to realise, via 6 years of academic research into affective neuroscience, to realise I suffer from a primary disease of arrested development which has impacted on both my ability to grow emotionally and cognitively and has severely impacted on my ability to have relationships with other human beings.
I have quite simply not learnt the majority of the survival mechanisms one is supposed to learn in childhood.
These, according to the book Co-Dependence:Healing he Human Condition by Charles Whitfield, include the “arrested identity development” and “failure to achieve psychological autonomy” of not learning fully to connect, love, trust, explore, initiate, be autonomous, think, cooperate, master, create, develop values as well as regenerate (heal) evolve, and grow…
Due to the trauma of childhood “we are in survival mode, focusing outside of ourselves, and neglecting our inner lives…in our relationships with self and others we often have difficulty with achieving development in areas such as connecting, trusting, mastering and loving.
Recovery gives this dysfunctional Adult Child a second chance to work through these developmental stages in a health way. But even in early recovery we can feel as though we are starting over – even from a kind of infancy…”
I can really relate to feeling of being like an infant in early recovery.
In fact, I felt like a baby at times, I was so challenged by life and survival. Getting to the “terrible twos” was actually progress!
I had to be helped intensively by my wife and my sponsor.
I have blogged before about my shock also at not being able to sit with and identify emotions. All of this lack of emotion processing ability and chronic lack of survival skills was obviously worsened by the chronic neuro toxic effects of alcohol on the brain, but the alcohol was only worsening an already existing impaired ability to deal with life on life’s terms.
The simple truth is that the wide range of survival skills needed were not taught to me and as such internalised by me.
When I was in early recovery this was so apparent. It was frighteningly apparent but I never knew why I was so poorly prepared for life when i got sober.
It is in reading about co-dependency that I have learned much about my primary disorder, that of co-dependency.
My alcoholism grew out of this fertile soil of co-dependency.
For example, I have often talked about emotional processing deficits in alcoholics and these may have been the consequence of living in dysfunctional families.
Not only were emotion regulations skills not taught and not learnt but it seems that if a child is constantly repressing their feelings and emotions as a way of simply coping with quite threatening emotions then we may lose the ability to feel our feelings and distinguish one emotion state from another.
This then has a negative effect on our decision making as emotions are used to guide decisions and the consequences of our impaired decision making.
If we can’t differentiate our emotions from each other then they are distressing and we are destined to make haphazard and distress based decisions – we act impulsively and then, in time, compulsively.
Our sister blog looks at the link between repressing coping style and emotion processing deficits (alexithymia).
I have a brain that needs to “know” about a disorder on multiple levels. The books on co-dependency appear to tally with very recent neuroscience research – they seem also to help bridge the link between insecure attachment and later emotional disorders in addicted individuals. Co-dependency offers insight into a mechanism that turns parental neglect into emotion regulation via external addictive means.
We appear to have an emotional disease as I have stressed before. This effects us internally in our relationship with ourselves and externally in our relationships with others.
Emotions make the world go around not money.
Thus the emotion processing deficits , negative self schema, shamed based psychic reactions to the world and so on, that I have demonstrated to my own mind, and to my own satisfaction as been part of the pathomechanism of addictive behaviours, are all probably the consequence of my dysfunctional upbringing.
Perhaps I have needed to recover these 10 years to deal with these issues, this new awareness about this multi-faceted chronic disorder I suffer from.
Regardless of all the contributory factors to my later addictive behaviours, they all ultimately represent a constant threat to relapse back to addictive behaviours, including some addictive behaviours I never thought I had before!
It seems that if I do not start dealing with this primary dysfunction of which I call a co-dependence disorder, my addictive behaviours will squirt out here, there and everywhere, in some form, whether it is excessive shopping, eating, obsessing, etc.
I regulate emotions externally unless I share them with someone else – from obsessing about my noisy neighbours to food binges. I am always attempting to fix my emotion in the most maladaptive way possible, by making my distress states more distressful.
There are many reasons for this co-dependence disorder which I will be blogging on regularly from now on.
Reading books about co-dependency has been a bit like reading an autobiography written strangely by someone else.
The last time I so identified with what is effectively a description of me was when I first read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Recent revelations have been that startling.
Now is what to do done about these?
I still intend to do EMDR therapy when the opportunity exists but I will also attend a local Co-dependents Anonymous meeting in my home town too and continue to read around this area to increase my awareness about this primary condition.
Hopefully you will join me in this new journey through this so-called second stage of recovery.
There are also more recent books on co-dependency which I will look at in the following weeks too.
It is exciting in a way, all this new insight.
Most people in recovery have to employ the skills of a scientist, experimenting in themselves with this or that to try and get more healthy. I can see now I have been doing that not only in recovery but since I was a teenager. Long may it continue too.
Recovery is Discovery after all!
🙂 Beautiful post, thank you. And yes to the ‘It takes time to realise it takes time’. 🙂 I am sort of finding that out now.
On the sitting with feelings, that is the one thing I did learn from my therapist over the years but yes, it takes a LOT of time to get to the parts where the real issues are. And I do not even know if these are the real issues because I think I am learning that this ‘whole sobriety thing’ sort of peels my dysfunctional personality like an onion. This morning I was able to stay within my anxiety, like consciously experience anxiety for what 1 minute max. That would be a big one for me, sitting with anxiety. 🙂
On the reading a book and recognising yourself in it; I had that with Addictive Personality from Craig Nakken. Every sentence was about me (said the addict 😉 )
I will be looking forward to your future post on co-dependency. I’m thinking it might be very helpful for me too.
Something popped up when reading this post and I’ll just mention it, see if it makes sense to you but my mother’s mother had Von Muchhausen by proxy. I think it did great damage to my mother but worse to my aunt who has become an alcoholic herself and suffers from severe illnesses and a totally dysfunctional approach to life and people. Again, not sure why I mention this but it feels connected to my story and co-dependency in general. It was a ‘if you are not ill I will not love you.’ 😦 Just realising now that my grandmother was actually allergic to alcohol. Hmmm….
Well, again thank you for your post. 🙂 Looking forward to reading about your discoveries. 🙂
Hi Feeling, great to hear from you, it’s been a while.
Thank you for your very good comments as or usual.
I agree this ‘whole sobriety thing’ sort of peels my dysfunctional personality like an onion (all of which make you cry!!). I often think when peeling another layer “why didn’t I understand this before?” – the truth seems to be that this emotional/spiritual enfolding can only occur when you are ready for it to do so. Healing is like a flowered blossoming, it takes time. All we can do is put in the work and leave the results to the process.
Although equally there are things we can learn to adopt right away. For example, I am not very good with personal boundaries and “trust” people too much. There are bits I have learnt right away about these boundaries, people to really trust with everything, some to trust with bits of stuff and those to not really trust with much. I never learnt this as a child. Simple to others but not to me? How can I know something unless I have been taught it? I have to go back, regress in a sense, to learn what I did not learn first time around. What is commonplace for many in terms of psychological development is like a mystery or a voyage of discovery to me! That is how it is but the message of hope is that much of this stuff can be unlearnt. It can be replaced with adaptive behaviours. First we have to know what fully ails us I guess. Then grieve it’s loss, heal and grow.
This recovery is like an ongoing puzzle for me. The scientist in me quite likes the novel learning it brings. I am grateful to learn and this fights off my self pity, the poor me syndrome of “if only?”.
We have a multi faceted illness so recovery tends to give us enough books, theories, spiritual practices etc etc to last us our whole recovery!
Thanks for the book recommendation, I have it with me as a PDF which I will read. I also have “Toxic Parents” which I will read after the half a dozen others I have planned to read.
As for the bit about your family and the “It was a ‘if you are not ill I will not love you.’”, this is completely related to co-dependency. It is a role, one of many, played by various people in the family. I have two sisters who are constantly “ill” because my mother was never diagnosed or self diagnosed for her chemical dependency but had an ever changing number of different “illnesses” I have two sisters have this too, always ill with some new and rare complaint or other. Whereas my other sister and me fight tooth and nail against any form or suggestion even of illness. Illness scares us but comforts the other two. I will blog in the next few days, as I want to blog much more regularly, about the various characters/roles that individual members of a family play in the dysfunctional family like for example, the “martyr” the “victim”, the “overachiever”, the family hero” and “family mascot” (I am these last three), the “perfectionist” (me too), the “people pleaser” (not me) etc – there are a about twenty odd roles children and adults play in these dysfunctional families. My mother was the “martyr” the most difficult to treat supposedly.
I want to know which roles people who read this blog are?
Knowing the different roles my sibling got trapped in (and me too) helps me have more compassion for them. When we put stuff into a story, with characters, we can learn more and internalise it like some template of knowing.
Stories keep us sane!! 🙂
Aah, shit, wrote a reply and pushed the wrong button. 😦 And yes, I do feel sorry for myself sometimes :-). The feeling exists, why not use it. It is only others who are bothered by it, everybody is very agressive about it. But I live alone so I can have my sorry time if I like. I actually notice that if I take sorry-time I walk back into life much quicker than when surpressing it.
I would be the victim (or martyr?), the (trying to) peacemaker, the perfectionist, the overachiever (in the top 3 of class for 11 years) and the lightning rod, trying to defuse their fights. 😦 And helpful, yes, helpful, always helpful 😦
My current definition of having an addictive personality and drinking is that it is all ‘a misunderstanding of Life’. I believe this is my 3rd or 4th definition in 14 months, coming from ‘shitface just lacks willpower’ to ‘IT’S A DISEASE!!!’ to ‘It is a disease with mental and spiritual consequences’. 🙂 I like this whole mildening-up effect sobriety brings, less fighting. 🙂
I live in fear of hitting the wrong button because my answers are always so long winded but not this one….Only joking, this one too. In AA they used to say there was a manual to life that never got handed out to us and I agree to a certain extent. The damage done by neglect, abuse and trauma is physically real, it alters the brain’s stress and emotional regulatory networks, this is for real I think. But it is more than that. It is in essence a developmental delay disorder. I am not sure we got as far of some of Piaget’s phases in terms of cognitive development especially of emotion processing etc. Alexithymia has been described in this way as a developmental delay – parts of our brains have not “matured” through normal healthy development and we did not have the tools to live as others have had. I hope we demystify this illness one day and in doing so simply destigmatise it. We did not get enough of what we needed to develop properly, to grow our brains properly, healthily and then we found our answers, our coping strategies in the wrong places. We have to develop, grow up, to mature in recovery, that is what recovery is to me, becoming less immature, less me, me, me etc. More considerate of others. One final point is that intellectual capabilities hide our co-dependence – we look to the outside world like we are doing really well, and our families must be really great!! But we are drowning not waving really. We thus find it hard in recovery to work out how someone as bright as us got to be so screwed up, I know I did. Emotional intelligence was however not my top mark and this is what I have learned about in recovery. Understanding these pesky emotions, those are the tools required and they are the essential parts of this life manual.
Ghegheghe…. it is a fear we share. Long answers, yes, got that too. 🙂
I was only joking, I have now finished my long winded answer. 🙂
I am a little puzzled about my emotional intelligence, a lot of people find me very, very developed like almost mindreading people – which, I can imagine now, would possibly be a need to survive a dysfunctional family. 😦
But or next to that I see big, big holes in my development. Sometimes I wish I could do a test or so, find out what is weird in me and just ‘fix it’ so I can be ‘normal’. Oooh, where, where did I hear that one before? 😉
reading others does’t seem to the same problem as reading our own emotions. I find I can read other’s very clearly and accurately, more so the longer I have been in recovery. When I drank I used to say I should be more intuitive than I am and in recovery I find I am very intuitive. Whether this is a survival skill learnt from childhood I am not sure. It may be. Equally I think we have special abilities to “see” – we are perhaps what William James called alcoholics “frustrated mystics” close to the heart of stuff. We have charisma for sure compared to most earthlings. Check out any good record collection or book collection and it is full of charismatic writes and musicians mainly addicts. This is in line with a book called”This Strange Illness” by Lobdell who even suggests we are shamanic like and from a different era, he says there must be an upside to alcoholism and addiction. We do definitely “see through” things – why that is I do not fully know why but I have my theories! The book on co-dependence also suggests we can reach mystical states or communion with God easier than others as we have quite labile egos and can change consciousness easily. All far out theories or ideas but strangely apt. We are childish at times but equally we have childlike awe and clear insight. All food for thought.
Paul, where have you hidden this info and side of you for so long?
My therapist says about this that I am centered in boundlessness, in that what is not so much bound to the body, earth, goods, money as other people. And yes, I assume this is linked to shamanism because I feel it provides me the ability to travel in the metaphysical world. My therapist is very good there, he can ‘feel through the air’ as I put it. And since I quit drinking I can literally feel where and when and with what intention he does that. Real cool! Which is a real cool as in ‘I do not think I would be alive today if I had not met up with somebody who recognises this way of communication and makes me realise that I am not crazy, ‘just’ wired differently.’
Not sure if you read my blog but I was (am?) infatuated with a (addicted) on and off wise book store man and he spoke of taking the path of confusion which some people need to take to find their own path and reality. It is a thing which seems to be known in some Indian philosophies. I’m not sure if I will be speaking with him again but I’ll ask what and where if we do.
Btw: do you live in the UK or just wake up at extreme times? You have this ‘normal’ waking hours. 🙂
I have many sides Feeling. 🙂 including an artistic side and a philosophical etc etc I seek to explain addiction from various different angles, from neuro-mechanisms to spirituality to psychology, for me they are all different strata of the same experience and offer different reflections. I am not perhaps your “normal” neuroscientist as I have many interests in different fields but I would argue that I can move between different areas of study because of my addicted self which does not join any clubs or restrict himself to this or that. I go where I please. I am labile enough to do so. I see through where normal people seem to connect this to that without seeing the whole. We see the whole and are holistic thinkers – sometimes we can see it before it happens! I am also incredibly bloody minded and will study areas which are very demanding and technical if need be, sometimes starting from scratch in areas like neurotransmission or genetics, mainly because I will not be denied!! . I always want to get to the heart of the matter one way of the other whether via Buddhism or neuroscience. We have different abilities in the same way other diferent “development disorders” have like Aspergers “smelling” people’s emotional states or autistic people painting an entire cityscape after driving around it once! There are slight different wired brains and they all have special “talents” as a result. I also think I can “feel through air” and can even feel whatever emotion someone is having on the other end of a telephone call in my own heart or tell if someone is lying by the tone of their voice. One writer described alcoholism as a “spiritual thirst” which i relate to. Spirits approximate that sudden change of consciousness but it was not as good as changing consciousness spiritually. we can be at one with God that is my experience, part of the God head. I live in the UK but do not want to give too much away. I remain anonymous because there will be more soul surgery to come on this blogsite and that requires anonymity. We have only just begun…xx
Yeah, anonymity = key for blogs like these.
I sometimes wonder if the ultra-sensitivity also drove me to drink or that it was not related. A whole world opened up when I viewed the series ‘Lie to me’: FINALLY people who understood. They approach communication and lying scientifically what I do on intuition. Did you see it? View tip: the first episodes are still a bit wishy-washy, but it gets better and also worse but that is ok.
It must be cool to work in this field on a daily base. 🙂 Enjoy your research!
I have left my PhD now so this research is now my service to my fellow recovering people, people still in addiction and their families and anyone else who is interested. I try to give back something as I was giving so much freely by other people in recovery. I could not solely do a PhD for 4 years so I now blog in between making a living. I am very sensitive but this ties in with the spirituality bit I mentioned before. There is a price to having such sensitive natures as we know. We live in a society that does not value sensitivity only the works that sensitivity brings like art, music, literature which it then sells. An increasingly disconnected world emotionally and in terms of community does not help as addiction grows more quickly in isolation.
“Recovery is Discovery”… I like it 🙂 I completely agree with your statement “The simple truth is that the wide range of survival skills needed were not taught to me and as such internalised by me.” I feel this is the story of my life–It seems I missed the classes that taught “life” maybe I was absent from school that day? Looking forward to your continuing posts on 2nd State Recovery!
thank you Lori, I am delighted this blog has struck a cord – this co-dependency stuff is certainly an area I need to do a lot more work on – I will be posting more often on this too. It feels I have started a new phase of recovery now, one not as terrifying as the first time around – it will be great to share it as it happens this time round in the hope that it helps others too?