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!