You are Enough, We are Enough!

“The wounded healer” refers to us, who suffer greatly from shame, helping others via love, tolerance and understanding who also suffer greatly from shame.

We can help others and be helped because we all know what it is like to feel the chronic, toxic shame the drives addictive behaviours.

Our understanding of shame is not out of a book it is real, lived experience. We know how it can drive one into chronic addiction and we know how to recovery from the persistent effects of this shame.

The main thing that struck me when I first went to AA was a lack of judgement which was amazing considering I was very jaundiced at the time.

I was accepted in the group without  reservation. This greatly helped my damaged sense of belonging, my not feeling part of.

It made me feel that this is the place I need to be. Have always needed to be?

The “shares” or testimonies of other recovering people made we realise they suffered the same shame as me and had worked to overcome it via the steps, via having fellowships, people in their lives who understood and who helped them. They told me of their triumphs over their emotional difficulties, over their chronic lack of self esteem, over not feeling good enough, of feeling less than.

A failure –  they talked about me and how I felt about me. How I had always felt about me!?

I had never been in a group of people who had talked so openly about their intimate feelings which was amazing. In doing so they were talking about my intimate feelings too. This gave me a sense of not being alone anymore. They seemed to be shining a light of hope into the dark recesses of of my shameful psyche.

It addressed my sense of isolation right away.

I had spent my life feeling not good enough, bad, l had that knawing feeling of less than, that hole in the sole.

I was like these people. They were like me.

I felt and continue to feel more like these people than I do my own family.

They became my surrogate family, my newly learnt attachment.

They were like me. They had not learnt this stuff out of a book, by professional observation but by having been through this stuff themselves. This was real not learnt.

They had been there. They were here now for me.

They knew what they were talking about.

This was the beginning of my psychic change. A person who was to become by therapist at the local treatment  was at my first meeting and he later said that he felt I had a psychic change at that my first meeting.

I had come in utterly beaten, at  death’s door and had left with hope.

The journey started with hope.

I had found a portal in the universe – it was Alcoholics Anonymous but from the shares it might have been called Shame sufferers Anonymous.

Shame ran through every share. They say fear is the corrosive thread which ran through our lives but it is equally the case that shame does too and causes just as much distress and damage.

It is difficult to live life when you do not have your own back, believe in yourself as  worthy of the good, healthy, things  in life. That you are not worthy them. That these things happen to others. Not you as you do not deserve them.

Why recover at all when you are not worth it?

This is how many of us feel? We are not worth it, this recovery.

The truth is the opposite, we are worth it. We do deserve it.

We are heroes who suffered so much and come through so much. We deserve happiness more than most! As a result we have  so have so much to offer others. We are all wounded healers.

We are here to help others like ourselves, in a way that only we can!

It was via others, like parents that we have this shame and these negative self schemas.

It is through human relationships that these start to heal. Shame is a social emotion which needs a social treatment.

We need to reconnect to overcome the isolating force of shame.

You are enough! We are enough!

Your Heart is in Your Own Hands!

Easy Does it…on yourself!

I give myself a hard time,  it is a habitual response I have when things go “wrong” or don’t go my way. One of the first words  that pop into my head is “idiot!”. It is a lack of distress tolerance borne out of a reducee ability to deal with fristration. This appears in the brain as a distress signal prompting an automatic response rather than an evaluative response. A reaction rather than a reflective action.

It is the consequence of a distress state and in itself distressing. It can also be distressing for those around me. It seems like perfectionism which is also a product of distress.

I believe it is also the product of my upbringing, trauma and insecure attachment which has led to a low self esteem and a lack of self soothing combined with the reality that chronic alcoholism leaves us with an allostatic brain, i.e. the stress systems in the brain are impaired.

It is only recently in recovery, after some years of recovery, that I have started to feel real compassion for myself as someone recovering from alcoholism and various addictive behaviours.

When I look at photos of me in active addiction and in the first years of recovery my heart goes out to that younger, more distressed version of myself.

Compassion is a Latin word that which can be translated as meaning suffer together with. It can also be described as a feeling of empathy for the suffering of other people.

I have always found it easier to have compassion for others more than myself. I practiced Buddhist mediation for a number of years and have often felt at one with the world and it’s people. I have nonetheless always struggled with being compassionate towards myself.

I have somehow found myself undeserving of a compassionate attitude towards my own struggles. I know my God loves me but I have often felt it difficult to love this person that God loves.

Again, this could be a legacy of how ambivalent attachment and how my mother saw and reacted. I sometimes have more time and consideration for others rather than myself.

Ultimately however, how react to the world is a function of how I treat myself and the attitudes I have collected in my negative self schema or the neural responses ingrained in my brain over decades. As the image below shows, my heart is in my own hands, by this I mean the distress I experience in life is the consequence of my own attitudes towards me and my fellow human beings.

Self-Compassion-680x513

 

I can change my brain and behaviour via neuroplasticity by behaving differently towards myself!

Here we look at one study on self compassion in relation to those who have alcohol  use disorders.

It will be a first in a series of blogs about the role of the heart in addiction and recovery.

Why the heart?

I thought this blog was about neuroscience and the brain which is the head? Not completely true. The heart has a role to play in stress and emotion regulation and in craving and helps prompt neuro transmission of various brain chemicals. The heart has a reciprocal relationship with the brain as we will see in later blogs.

We have had a neuroscientific “decade of the brain” so perhaps we need a “decade of the heart”? As we say in recovery circles, recovery is a journey from the head to the heart, which is so true whatever way you care to look at it.

This study (1)  looked at “Self-Compassion Amongst Clients with Problematic Alcohol Use”.

“Self-compassion is a topic of growing research interest and is represented by six facets including selfkindness, self-judgement, mindfulness, over-identification, common humanity and isolation. Recent research interest has begun to examine the use of self-focused compassion and mindfulness as a way of alleviating the distress associated with psychological disorders.

Recent research interest has begun to examine the use of self-focused compassion and mindfulness as a way of alleviating the distress associated with psychological disorders.

The self medication hypothesis (Khantzian 2003) suggests that substance addiction functions to self-soothe and to modulate the effects of distressful psychological states (Suh et al. 2008).

Other research has found that experiencing stressful life events significantly predicts the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed (Dawson et al. 2005) and the onset of alcohol dependence (Lloyd and Turner 2008) indicating that stress plays a key part in the development of alcohol use disorders.

Low self-esteem has also been found to pose a high risk for substance abuse (Baumeister 1993; Bushman and Baumeister 1998) and alcohol dependence (Chaudhury et al. 2010,).

Self-compassion does not involve an unrealistic self view, it should be stable unlike self-esteem, which often fluctuates (Kernis et al. 1993). Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding to oneself, awareness that pain and failures are unavoidable common experiences among humanity and a balanced awareness of one’s emotions (Neff, Rude and Kirkpatrick 2007).

Kelly et al. (2010) suggested that the trait of self-compassion promotes adaptive functioning and appears to provide a buffer from emotional distress. Neff (2003a) has also reported that self-compassion was strongly inversely related to psychological health such as depression, anxiety, rumination, thought suppression, self-criticism and neurotic perfectionism. Neff, Kirkpatrick and Rude (2007) found that increased self compassion resulted in reduced depression, anxiety, thought suppression, rumination and self-criticism.

Neff (2003a, b) suggests that there are three main components to self-compassion including self-kindness versus self-judgement, common humanity versus isolation and mindfulness versus over-identification. Self-kindness is being kind to oneself rather than judging harshly or being self– critical. Common humanity is viewing one’s experiences as part of larger human experience and not viewing them as isolating or separating. Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way involving a conscious direction of awareness (Kabat-Zinn 1994). Neff (2003a, b) describes mindfulness as taking a balanced approach to negative emotions and neither suppressing not exaggerating emotions.

The self-kindness facet represents an alternative to rumination, blaming, self-condemnation and self-criticism.

Common humanity appears to be related to general well-being and Mindfulness represents a state of mental balance with a stance of composure towards difficult and painful thoughts and feelings, therefore suggesting mindfulness may play an important role in adaptive and maladaptive emotion regulation (Van Dam et al. 2011). Self-compassion can be thought of a coping strategy that assists one to remain emotionally balanced when in a stressful situation (Rendon 2007) and provides emotional resilience (Neff 2011).

This study is among the first to examine the self-compassion of people with alcohol dependence, who were currently using alcohol at hazardous levels.

The results indicated that the (alcohol dependnet) participants in this study were significantly lower in mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness than what would be expected in the general population.

Participants were also significantly higher in over-identification, perceived isolation and self judgement than the norms for general population.

Stress was found to be significantly negatively correlated to the overall score for self-compassion (e.g., the higher the level of stress reported by the individual, the lower the self compassion). Stressed individuals judged themselves more harshly, felt more isolated from others and felt overly responsible for negative events that occurred in their lives.

The results ,taken together, indicated that participants in this study reported a significant increase in self-compassion, mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness between baseline and 15-week follow-up and involvement in treatment with a Drug and Alcohol Clinical Service.

Additionally, there was a significant decrease in self-judgement, isolation and over-identification. The reduction in self-judgement and isolation was such that at the 15-week follow-up stage, participant scores for these subscales were equivalent to what other research has suggested is representative of the general population.

The change in participant’s stress was found to be significantly associated with self- kindness, self-judgement, isolation and the number of sessions in which meditative practice (which may have incorporated mindfulness-based approaches) was used by clinicians. These results provide support for the notion that significant increases in participant’s overall self-compassion, self-kindness, mindfulness and common humanity can be observed in people with alcohol dependence over a 3-month treatment period.”

 

This study is useful in that it shows how the emotional distress at the heart of addiction, itself a manifestation of altered stress responding or heightened stress responses in alcoholics, was greatly reduced by self compassion or simply have a more compassionate view of one’s suffering.

It is in taming the distress of the heart that lowers stress chemicals swirling around the brain and which influences our subsequent attitudes and behaviour.

Recovery is in the heart, in the now, in not reacting but acting. Even if that action is just of observing, paying attention to, having compassion for.

After years of being our own worst enemy, perhaps recovery is the process of becoming our own best friend. 

References

1. Brooks, M., Kay-Lambkin, F., Bowman, J., & Childs, S. (2012). Self-compassion amongst clients with problematic alcohol use. Mindfulness, 3(4), 308-317.