The Final Destination Arrives At You


steve ty;ler 12107086_10203950348918057_213877165820754834_n

One month ago I was hoping to start EMDR therapy for my PTSD.

Unfortunately it has not happened as yet. I spent the whole summer preparing myself to start therapy but it is yet to start.


My wife also suffers from PTSD and anxiety disorder. Due to this and that, I have been looking after her for the last few weeks, supporting her, and getting her back to work as she had been off with acute stress. This was exhausting given my current emotional state.

Then someone tried to kicked my front basement door in – unsuccessfully I am glad to say.

It was however a bit traumatic and upsetting, this invasion of our privacy, this violation of our home.

So I had to fix the door. Unfortunately it also rained and rained the night of the attempted break in and the basement room got flooded which cost nearly £2000 to fix.

Fortunately the Insurance will cover it but it is still distressing and stressful. I have spent days installing cctv and security lights.

So I had to get my wife back to work followed by this break in followed by having to work with builders for the last four-five weeks (a long story in itself!).

The basement door was replaced and then the laminate floor was taken up as it was ruined by the flood. Then we realised  we may have rising damp so we had to get that fixed.

The floor was treated and the walls painted with a tar. The basements steps are had to be re-cemented and the front windows and doors resealed to prevent further problems with damp.

We then laid tiles which took forever and re-plastered the ceiling which has been damaged, strangely by the flooding also as the roof is below ground level, i.e. in the basement.

It has been stressful and exhausting. I could lie down on the floor and sleep, if they weren’t full of dirt and plaster. I have done all this while in a stew of trauma which is like a puss capsule waiting to burst.

All my life I have been a person who fixes stuff, helps people out in an emergency. A go to guy.

As a child I tried to be a caregiver, caretaker to my Valium dependent mother. I parented her as she struggled to parent me. I also took all my father’ anxieties about his troubled wife and his general woes.

I grew up in role reversal.

I am primed to help in emergencies.

I never had anyone to share my concerns with.  My sisters would ask me how are you? Then not wait for the reply.

It was a prelude to me having to listen to how they were. I have been a receptacle for other’s to deposit their anxieties. Often without offering this service.

Who listened to me? I have always felt like a “poorly drawn boy” tiny, lacking definition in my mind’s eye when I look back at my childhood.

There is little substance to my self schema

I somehow need to get better drawn, coloured in, made more full, more me. Take back the pieces of me strewn across the wreckage of my past. Piece them together to see what I end up with, end up as.

At the moment I feel I am in danger of disappearing.

Is this a bad thing? This feeling of evaporating. Is the old me disappearing, am I shedding skin, a turtle-like replacing a shell with another?

Hopefully a lighter shell!

I do not fear emotions like before, however negative or troublesome. I think something is coming to the surface, like a vapour on my stew.

Impurities  being cleansed just by my decision to look at my trauma therapeutically, professionally.

This may have started a stampede of squashed emotions, trampling their way to the surface of my mind to get recognition, to finally be heard.

All I know is that if I don’t deal with my trauma it will deal with me. It is the most pressing concern for me not only in terms of general mental well being but in terms of relapse risk. It is by far the greatest risk to relapse.

I find AA meetings are good for sharing about certain things,   to a certain extent, for sharing what is going on with me but no longer fully. AA does not really deal with shame, trauma or the other issues that propelled my addictions to near death and psychosis.

It deals with shame of addiction for sure but The Big Book was written at a time when even psychotherapy did not consider shame, instead concentrating on guilt.

The steps deal effectively with guilt and the shame around what we have done to other people, sins of commission,  but they do little in my opinion for the sins of omission, the sins sinned against us. What do we do with this stuff?

The stuff that often propelled our addictions in the first place? Haven’t some of us been just dealing with the cart and not the horse?

Just some observations.

Roughly 65% of AAs have outside help, with what? The causes of their addictions?

Or certainly development childhood aspects which later contributed to the severity of their addictions?

This is where I am at, looking out for others while fit to burst myself. I am bottling up a primal yell, and request to be heard, at last.

As the youngest in my family I had no one in whom to deposit my anxiety and distress. To offload on.

AA has been instrumental in helping me share tonnes of stuff about my alcoholism. My trauma and neglect form childhood has often met with fairly closed ears. Some things people don’t want to talk about in depth. Some things they don’t want to touch for fear of making worse. I can relate to this. I have done this myself for years in recovery. But now it is inevitable that I deal with this stuff.

The damn is about to burst as I have said and will do…eventually.

I will hopefully keep you posted.

I am also very hopeful that it will have a chrysalis effect too.

I have  faith that God goes deep!

There is a map of Emotional Responding Tattooed on my Heart.

When I was doing my step four inventory as part of my 12 step programme of recovery  I did it pretty much as suggested in the Big Book.

My sponsor at the time asked me to do an additional part that is not explicitly mentioned in the Big Book.

He said to list all the negative emotions (or defects of character) that I had been in the grip of and exhibiting in relation to my various misdemeanors and the resentments I had held against various people and institutions over the preceding decades.

This turned out to be a brilliant idea for two reasons.

First it showed me that  I held a multitude of resentments because I had a problem of emotion regulation.

I did not realise that the engine driving this emotion dysregulation was chronic shame.

I realised when doing my step 4 that that I had not previously been able to leave various supposed slights and abuses from my past in the past because I did not have the emotional maturity to look at these episodes reasonably and objectively.

In other words, I had not processed these episodes emotionally and embedded these events in my long term memory like healthy more emotionally mature people do.

Hence when I came into recovery I had hundreds and hundreds of resentments swirling around my mind, poisoning my thoughts and sending constant emotional daggers into my heart.

My past constantly assailed me emotionally, randomly attacking my mind.

My step 4 and then 5 showed me that I did  not have the natural ability to deal with my negative emotions.

Secondly, listing all the negative emotions I had when I held a resentment against someone was very revealing in that when I held a resentment, any resentment, and against a wide variety of people, the negative emotions listed where generally the same! In fact they were all interlinking in a pattern of emotional reacting, one activating the other. It was like a emotion web that ensnared one in increasingly frustrating states of emotional distress and inappropriate responding.

This was quite a revelation!? That I respond in exactly the same way to my sense of self being threatened?

That there was a map of emotional responding tattooed on my heart.

I was drawing up a web of my emotional dysregulation, a route map of all the wrong ways to go, to emotional cul de sacs.

It was a list of the negative emotions which appear always when I felt anger and resentment against someone for hurting me and my feelings.

Just as revealing where the negative emotions listed which clearly showed how  I react, and can still react to people who I believe have caused my hurt or rejection.

In fact it seems now that I treat all insult, intentional or otherwise, in a very similar way.

I have spent years trying to work our why?

I got as far as deciding it was an inherent problem with processing negative emotions, which it is.

However, there seems to be a problem specifically with a patterned mesh of negative emotions which are activated when someone upsets me.

In fact I think this pattern of interlinked negative emotions occurs simply because of inability to identify, label and share the simple fact that I have been upset  by what someone has said or acted towards me.

“Shame is a fear-based internal state being, accompanied by beliefs of being unworthy and basically unlovable. Shame is a primary emotion that conjures up brief, intense painful feelings and a fundamental sense of inadequacy. Shame experiences bring forth beliefs of “I am a failure” and “I am bad” which are a threat to the integrity of the self. This perceived deficit of being bad is so humiliating and disgraceful that there is a need to protect and hide the flawed self from others. Fears of being vulnerable, found out, exposed and further humiliated are paramount. Feelings of shame shut people down so that they can distance from the internal painful state of hopelessness.”

“… unacknowledged thoughts and feelings become repressed and surface later through substitute emotions and dysfunctional behavior. Other emotions are substituted to hide the shame and maintain self esteem. Anger, exaggerated pride, anxiety and helplessness are substituted to keep from feeling the total blackness of being bad. The buried shame is expressed through defense mechanisms that shield negative unconscious material from surfacing.

Anger responses are modeled and learned in some families. The anger response is more comfortable than feeling the shame for some individuals. Families where coercive and humiliating methods of discipline are used develop children who are shame prone. Behavior become driven by defenses that function to keep from feeling bad. Reality becomes distorted to further protect the self from poor self esteem. The transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator of internal shame.

Children who live with constant hostility and criticism learn to defend against the bad feelings inside and externalize blame on others. External assignment of blame is a defense against shame. People who are super critical have a heavy shame core inside.”

I was working with someone last year and we had a disagreement and this guy said to me “I am upset” and “You have hurt my feelings” I was taken aback. I thought I never say things like that. This guy was an Olympic champion at expressing how he feels compared to me. I never say I am upset because it also seems to be an undifferentiated emotion that I have trouble accessing, mentalising and expressing.

I have not been taught as a child or since to simply say I am upset.

Instead of acting on my upset by saying to someone,  you have hurt my feelings  I do the opposite,   I react and attack them in my head, my thoughts, my words and sometimes in my actions. Sometimes I “get them back” somehow. I make them pay in some way.

Honesty is the heart of recovery and I am being honest. The years of recovery reveal many different things, some of them not so palatable.

I grew up in a family that did not express emotions like the ones I had mentioned. We reacted via anger and put downs hence I have grown up to be dismissive.

My dismissiveness and my arrogance are parts of defence mechanism against rejection, they guard my inherent sense of shame. I am full of shame, more so than fear, although these two overlap. Shame is in fact fear evoking.

I hide my shame away under an anger of emotional hostility, stay away or else! I will get you back somehow. Sometimes I am in shame and offend via my attitudes.

I also have other ways of reacting in an emotionally unhealthy way that my step 4 showed.

If someone hurts me, according to my step 4, my angry resentment of what they have said or done makes me ashamed. This can quickly prick my sense of self pity (uselessness and hopelessness) which is something I have always rage against (rage is an essential part of shame plus I rally against this feeling of powerlessness) and I retaliated via excessive pride (I am better than you, I will put you down and see how you like it!) I put you down in my mind or through the words uttered from my mouth by arrogance, dismissiveness, impatience and intolerance.

I do so because I am being dishonest and fearful.

I do some because I am self centred and selfish.

These are all parts of my emotionally entangled web that is spun when I react to some sense of rejection.

Sometimes the shame persists for some time and I try to relieve it by behavioral addictions, too much shopping, too much eating, too much objectification of the opposite sex.

Not enough action, or effort to change my feelings in a healthy manner.

My step 4  showed me this is the unhealthy fruit of my greed, gluttony, my lust, my sloth.

My spiritual malady.

Add in perfectionism because that is the quick way to do nothing, a fear of failure  that paralyses.

These are my main negative emotional  reactions to the world that often scare me and make me feel ashamed.

I have felt powerless via your comments so try to to steal some power back by making my self seem more powerful over you.

I respond to feelings of humiliation by humiliating you, I react to my chronic shame by attempting to created shame in you.

Some days I react more adversely than others.

For example, this family have just moved into my neighbourhood, they seem wild and out of control.

I am not only fearful (leading to dishonesty in my thinking, catastrophizing, intolerance of uncertainty about how they will behave etc) I have reacted to their arrival via shame based defence mechanisms and reactions. I am shamed and disgusted that my neighourhood has come to this. I am dismissive of them, intolerant, impatient and arrogant towards them. All shame based reactions.

Last night the police were called to their home and one of them was handcuffed and put in the back of the police van.

My head went “I told you so!”

It was a very shameful scene for the whole family.

When things had died  down and calm restored I spent the evening not in my fear or shame but in empathy and compassion.

How embarrassing for them how shameful.

I relate to them as they are out of control, my family was at varying times completely out of control too, traumatic and this is what has created a chronic shame in me, even still now after 10 years of recovery!

My shame responded and related to their shame.

Nobody wants to be out of control, to be teetering on the verge of the next disaster, the next moving of home, the next calling of the police,  the next swirling carousel of unmanageabiilty.

No one.

I related and all my negative emotions retreated to source like a evening tide on a beach.

I relate to my fellow human beings when I am not in fear or shame.

When I am in fear and shame the same pattern of negative reactions entrap my heart in its’ poisonous grip and I react in a way I would not choose to, if more reasonable.

This is what the heart of my alcholism looks like. Not a pretty sight some days.

The most beautiful thing about me most days is the fruits of my recovery.

Now at least I can see how I react and can take steps to deal with it.

I have a spiritual tool kit that deals with this emotional disease.

Whether  I stay in fear or shame is now my choice. A choice I once did not seem to have.

This is what recovery has given to me.

I do not have to cultivate my own misery through blind reaction.

Via an Amazing Grace I can now see what ails me.

Via AA I now have the tools, never taught to me in my family or in my troubled home environment.

I have gone home in AA. I learnt an attachment to those in AA and others.

I share my feelings of shame with those who know what that feels like.

Together we share our pain and we recover.




The Discordant Echoes of the Past

The last six years of research has been dedicated to trying to understand a fundamental part of my illness of addiction, of me.  People often say there is more to you than addiction.

To which I normally answer yes, there is also recovery.

I don’t mean to be smart arsed by this but I view recovery not only as a healing in many ways, physiologically, physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually but also as a ongoing process of learning about me, the various strands that have contributed to my illness and the various aspects of my recovery which also give insight into what was wrong in the first instance.

If certain aspects improve in recovery there is a fair chance these were impaired in the addiction cycle. I believe there is a lot more to addiction that the end product of addiction, namely chronic pathological addictive behaviour.

Various aspects have contributed to the need to externally manage troublesome and painful internal feeling states.

Recovery according to my wife has made me a nicer person, more loving and considerate and easier to live with. Better company,  more mature in my emotional reactions and more responsible. I hasten to add that I have some way to go still in some respects. In simple speak, I have become less selfish, self centred and less me, me me!

These to me seem like the traits of addiction, this self obsession.

Other factors have fed into this manifest self obsession too however.

Recovery has been a continual process of learning how to do life in a more healthy, emotionally mature way, in simple terms. I have had to learn so many things, the things  more healthy people take for granted and learnt years ago.

Somehow I never learnt how to do some basics, was never properly taught these basics or always had inherently difficulties with certain basic, developmental skills.

For example my emotional life was a complete failure, continually running away from my feelings, avoiding them as if they were actually injurious to the self!

I have spent years trying to work out why I ran away from my feelings and from a very early age. I have that type of curious head.

In early recovery I was astounded that I could not feel what emotions I was having, could not generate a mental perspective on what emotions I was experiencing, could  not identify and label and thus use as a way to make effective decisions. My decisions were always based on the “distress” of not knowing exactly what I was feeling, actions were taken simply to escape this distress.

I had in effect an emotional disorder and that this emotional disorder seemed to precede, initiate and propel by addictions.

Addictions were the place I went to in fleeing me and my negative emotions. They were the tools I used to regulate my negative moods, emotions and negative sense of self.

Me overwhelmed Me – I appeared to need help regulating Me so I chose and used stuff outside of me which seemed to work originally in provide escape but increasingly contributed to this escalating problem of my inability to live with me.

Someone described the spiritual awakening which results from doing the the 12 steps of AA as fundamentally changing how we think and feel about the world and our place in it!

So what do I think and feel about the world and my place in it?

And has this changed in recovery?

Generally I would say I have had a revolution in how I relate to the world, it no longer scares me like it did, I am no longer to ashamed take my rightful place in it.

That does not mean I no longer struggle with fear and shame. In fact the longer I am in recovery I see these two factors as contributing most of the distress I can feel in recovery.

Fear I have always been aware of – we have a fear-based illness it is often shared in AA meetings but shame?

Six years of academic research has clearly shown me that this fear based illness is a distress based disorder. Neuropsychology has shown that the experiential wisdom and insight of 12 step groups has always been correct.

Fear/distress causes me problems via certain avenues such as catastrophic thinking, fear of an uncertain future, distorted /dishonest thinking.

Fear can lead to a wide range of other negative emotions. But honesty is often the first port of call for fear.  I find fear leads immediately to distorted dishonest thinking. Honesty comes from the ancient Greek “to be in (one with) God” so I guess dishonesty is not being in God which is the opposite to being in fear. Interestingly the Christian Bible refers to the Devil as the Father of All Lies!

I had not however realise that shame creates just as many emotional difficulties and emotional pain as fear!

Shame and fear certainly effect each other but both can take the lead.

Fear is referred to in the Big Book of AA “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It is an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.” but shame is rarely mentioned!

This is not surprising as there was little research into the effects of shame of illness back then in the 1930s, in fact research into shame is relatively recent, in the last 25 years. Interest in shame came form an academic article which called shame the “master emotion!” which can effect and amplify all other negative emotions. Thus it has just a profound effect on emotional well being as fear!

I was delighted to come across this research recently as I have always been looking for answer to a vexing question, ever since early recovery in fact.

In early recovery, and since, I have always wondered when someone hurts my feelings, intentionally or otherwise,  I suddenly have this warm sensation, this spreading dendritic/branching type feeling in my heart which when activated captures my heart and pollutes my head with negative thoughts about me.

I suddenly feel hurt, upset, less than, smaller, weaker, hunched over, feeble, and then I get these other voices suggesting the person who upset me is right, I am worthless helpless, useless. Who the hell was I thinking I was, sure I was kidding myself?

I feel that I have been assailed, my head swoons, I lose my bearings. I am under some seemingly grievous emotional attack!

These feeling and thoughts multiply against the audio soundtrack of my tormenter’s voice which then blends into orchestra with my own and other voices of negative self perception.

I am suddenly strangely paralyzed by this emotional avalanche.

Other negative emotions are detonated such as self pity, the ever present sense of “poor me”.

Eventually other emotions may get activated too like fear and dishonest thinking.

I can work myself into quite a emotional state replaying the scene of my supposed insults via resentment and the re-sending of situations, feeling and thoughts from this and other previous episodes in my  life. Other negative mood congruent memory is activated and soon there are other similar memories of similar insults supporting this insult and my increasingly sense of low self esteem and self worth.

I found it impossible for years to stop this spreading emotional feeling and distorted thinking after it was first activated.  It simply continued  against my will. When activated it takes ages to reduce. In fact the intensity of the emotion always seems to get worse before any hope of it getting any better!

I usually need the help of a loved other to help me through it.

It feels as if there has been an emotion explosion in my heart?

One emotion explodes and it then detonates other emotions is the best way I can explain it.

These leads to increased negative thoughts about self and the reinforcing of a negative self schema ingrained in memory from childhood on.

It seems to confirm all the worse things about myself.

Chastises me for having thought any differently!

All because I took a slight at what someone may have said to me!

Often I have found out afterwards that I had misheard and misinterpreted the words and that no insult was intentionally given in the first instance!

My fear-based misinterpretation led to all these negative emotional reactions and cognitive distortions which all then ran away with themselves.

Now in recovery I feel that shame has just as profound an effect on my negative emotions as fear – in fact shame can lead to fear and vice versa. But to me now, it seems that shame is that negative emotion that detonates the other emotions that spread dendritically across my heart.

I have finally found out what has been at the heart of my emotion dysregulation –  shame.

Shame and fear also have similar parents – namely trauma /abuse, insecure attachment as a child to a primary caregiver.

Addiction doesn’t exactly help with shame either!

The trauma incidents I experienced in childhood have led to a fear based responding to the world and what I would call chronic or toxic shame.

A knawing feeling of being less than, not good enough.

An emotional achilles heel.

The above feeling of shame and the resultant negative emotions and thoughts that it detonates are the result of what is perceived  as insult and rejection. It is often said in recovery that the recovering person fears nothing more than rejection, as it brings that damning emotion of shame.

At least fear can activates action, shame always paralyses. Fear can embolden, shames weakens.

We sufferers of toxic shame thus very vulnerable to this type of “putting us down” or the feeling of being rejected or even “found out”.

We spend our lives constantly guarding against it, although we are often unconscious of this.

I sometimes wonder if the “hole in my soul” was shame-shaped?

This is why shame inspires the constant use of defense mechanisms, the myriad of self defence mechanisms that we use against shame, rejection and which I will discuss next time around.

As for the solution to the above perceived insult, pray for forgiveness or simply forgive the person who allegedly insulted you as it exonerates him/her of being a imperfect human being while doing the same thing for you at the same time.

Accept the gift of our communal and very human imperfection when you can.





little prince download


In the next few weeks we will be looking at Shame and Addiction – nicely summed up here in this quote from  The Little Prince.

“- Why are you drinking? – the little prince asked.
– In order to forget – replied the drunkard.
– To forget what? – enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
– To forget that I am ashamed – the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
– Ashamed of what? – asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
– Ashamed of drinking! – concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
And the little prince went away, puzzled.
‘Grown-ups really are very, very odd’, he said to himself as he continued his journey.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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!

Becoming a Human Being not a Human Doing

Great insight here in how we need to become vulnerable and trusting in order to recover from the shame that drives our addictive behaviours.

Ultimately recovery becomes a process of becoming more human!

Allowing yourself to become more human…the healing in recovery involves the healing of human relationships.

The Shame at the Heart of Addiction

For me, over the last ten years,  it has become very clear that the toxic shame ingrained in my brain, from early childhood maltreatment, is at the core of my addictive behaviours.

Over the next weeks I will be posting on the role of shame in addictive behaviour and how to address shame in recovery.

This video is the fifth out of six videos  and brilliantly describes how shame activates and maintains addictive behaviours – I urge you to watch all of these videos.

Forgiving Others is the Number One Healer!?

“Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else… In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry… The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got…It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness…If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison…We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how?… (1)”

Later, p.77, it suggests  “a helpful and forgiving spirit.”

In the 12 Steps and 12  Traditions, p.78, in reference to step 8 it suggests “why shouldn’t we start out by forgiving them, one and all?

These truncated passages from the Big Book (1)  and the 12 and 12 (3) illustrates how resentments cause relapse and that they need to by treated with the antidote of forgiveness.

We suggest also that the myriad of resentments which swirl around our minds in early recovery are also negative emotions unprocessed and thus unregulated from the past. They continually haunt us because we have not put them “to bed” in long term memory.

We have not dealt with them, by clearly identifying, labelling, sharing via verbalising them with others and then by letting go of them via forgiveness. “Letting go” is another emotional regulatory strategy that healthy people use.

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Instead of constantly holding on to memories and incidents from the past, endlessly ruminating on them we maturely face up to them and consign them to the past.

We were thus interested in a study which was not using 12 step recovery but which came to the same conclusion but via another route (2).

“Anger and related emotions have been identified as triggers in substance use. Forgiveness therapy (FT) targets anger, anxiety, and depression as foci of treatment. Fourteen patients with substance dependence from a local residential treatment facility were randomly assigned to and completed either 12 approximately twice-weekly sessions of individual FT or 12 approximately twice-weekly sessions of an alternative individual treatment based. Participants who completed FT had significantly more improvement in total and trait anger, depression, total and trait anxiety, self-esteem, forgiveness, and vulnerability to drug use than did the alternative treatment group. Most benefits of FT remained significant at 4-month follow-up.

The levels of anger and violence observed among alcohol and other substance abusers are far higher than the levels found in the general population.

Alcohol and other substance abusers administered the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory typically have been shown to have higher state and trait anger, to be more likely to express anger to others, and to have less control of their anger.

Reducing levels of anger and its related emotions is now seen as an important feature of recovery programs. For example, according to the Project Match 12-step facilitation therapy manual, “Anger and resentment are pivotal emotions for most recovering alcoholics. Anger that evokes anxiety drives the alcoholic to drink in order to anesthetize it. Resentment, which comes from unexpressed (denied) anger, represents a constant threat to sobriety for the same reason” (Nowinski, Baker, & Carroll, 1999, p. 83).

Marlatt (1985) emphasized the importance of anger and frustration as triggers for relapse in both the intrapersonal and interpersonal domains. He noted that 29% of relapses are related to intrapersonal frustration and anger and that 16% are related to interpersonal conflict and associated anger and frustration.

Litt, Cooney, and Morse (2000) reported that those alcoholics who had urges to use after treatment had higher degrees of alcohol dependence, anxiety, and trait anger than those without such urges.

Forgiveness is an important way to resolve anger and restore hope (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). In helping clients move toward forgiveness, it is essential to differentiate forgiving from condoning, pardoning, reconciling, or forgetting.

Forgiveness is a personal decision to give up resentment and to respond with beneficence toward the person responsible for a severe injustice that caused deep, lasting hurt. FT helps the wronged person examine the injustice, consider forgiveness as an option, make a decision to forgive or not, and learn the skills to forgive.

Findings – Our clients came to the program with trait anxiety and trait anger scores substantially above the published norms for adults; after treatment, however, FT participants exhibited scores comparable to the average.  In other words, the treatment did not lead simply to a change in anxiety and anger (particularly the reportedly more stable trait anxiety) but to a change toward normal profiles. In contrast, patients in the alternative treatment condition had anxiety scores well above average, especially in terms of trait anxiety, which showed little change at post test and only minimal improvement at follow-up.

FT did not focus on drug vulnerabilities, whereas the alternative treatment did. Urges to use substances are not necessary for relapse, they are important indicators.

FT  treatment is centered more on clients’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about someone other than themselves: an offender who hurt them deeply and unfairly. In FT, a potential reason for substance use is examined, that of avoiding painful memories of betrayal, violence, or abuse. When patients are allowed to heal, their motivation to abuse substances may be substantially reduced…(it) is worth considering as a way to address core issues of emotional pain.



This can lead to a reduction in negative emotions and increases in self-esteem and forgiveness… it moves to the heart of the matter for some clients. Deep hurts borne out of unfair treatment seem to play a part in substance use and abuse. Even when clients have many people to forgive…we find that they seem to know which person is most crucial to forgive first before moving to other offenders. Substance use, from this perspective, is a symptom of underlying resentments and related emotional disruptions.

If we fail to realize this, we may end up treating only symptoms rather than underlying causes. ”


This process seems practically the same as the inventory of Step 4 and the forgiveness implicit to steps 8 and 9. This study also highlights that we through forgiveness we actually tackle the underlying condition of emotional dysregulation. It is this emotion dysregulation (or spiritual disease) which appears to drive addiction so needs to be fundamentally addressed. By addressing these issues via the steps especially step 4 we begin to see how it works!

It was interesting that forgiveness led to higher self esteem, as if being tied to the past was akin to being tied to a former negative self schema, that people from our pained past did actually have the power to control us! Especially how we feel about ourselves. We change how we feel about ourselves and our past by simply forgiving, it is such a powerful tool in recovery.

Importantly by viewing studies like this (2)  we get beyond negative views of 12 step recovery to show that the recovery program’s effectiveness is clearly highlighted by the success of other psychological treatments getting the same positive results by using exactly the same strategies.

12 step groups provide a battery of the most profoundly effective psychological therapies for addiction ever contained within one treatment philosophy.

Don’t we all need to re-appraise how we see 12 step recovery?

Can’t we all benefit from stepping to one side and looking via a different angle to see why 12 step recovery is effective?



1. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York: A.A. World Services.

2. Lin, W. F., Mack, D., Enright, R. D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. W. (2004). Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 72(6), 1114.

3.   Twelve steps and twelve traditions. (1989). New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services

Shame keeps you ill?

Following on from Ernie Kurtz’s great video on the role of shame in alcoholism and how the 12 steps help alcoholics in recovery address this shame via the 12 steps, we cite and use the findings of a study (1) which demonstrates how shame about the consequences of one’s alcoholism can prevent recovery and prompt relapse.

Our shameful secrets do keep us ill. We are ill people getting better and dealing with the shame and guilt of the past is essential to long term recovery. “…Several researchers have argued that shame rather than promoting positive change can also motivate hiding, escape, and general avoidance of the problem

….Supporting this account, those who are prone to shame tend to show a range of dysfunctional dispositions and biological outcomes, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic anger, heightened cortisol reactivity….Shame typically occurs when individuals blame themselves for negative events, and, in particular, aspects of themselves that are stable, uncontrollable, and not amenable to change…Thus, though seemingly counterintuitive, the impact of shame on one’s global self-image (i.e., the feeling, “I’m a bad person”) may lead individuals to believe they have no choice but to be that person, even if it is someone who hurts others…engages in substance abuse…

As a result, shame may lead to an increase, rather than decrease, of problematic behaviors, making shame a risk factor rather than a deterrent…researchers have suspected that shame promotes self-injurious behaviors, and that dispositional shame is a cause of alcoholism and a barrier to recovery…

We tested whether shame about addictive behaviors (i.e., one’s most recent alcoholic drink, among self-identified recovering alcoholics) interferes with addicts’ recovery by increasing their propensity to engage in the shame-inducing behaviors…



Alcoholics, like all addicts, are known to be dispositionally prone to shame…Additionally, alcohol consumption may provide a unique means of coping with painful shame feelings, because alcohol induces a form of disrupted cognition in which self-awareness—an essential pre-requisite for the experience of shame… is decreased or prevented. Thus, some alcoholics may have initially turned to binge drinking as a way to regulate the onslaught of chronic shame. If shame is a risk factor for alcoholism, it may be part of a vicious cycle in which it promotes addictive drinking and is experienced in response to addictive drinking, leading to a cycle of abuse.

If this is the case, then shame may perpetuate addiction and have a negative impact on health. When recovering alcoholics publically discuss their past drinking, the degree to which they demonstrate behavioral displays of shame significantly and substantially predicts changes in their … mental health, their likelihood of relapsing over time, and the severity of that relapse.

Specifically, the more shame behaviors individuals displayed, the more likely they were to relapse and decline in health within the next 4 months. These findings indicate that responding to past problematic drinking with pronounced behavioral displays of shame is a strong predictor of future drinking, and that shame about one’s addiction may be a cause of relapse, chronic drinking, and health declines in recovering alcoholics.

In conclusion, this research suggests that shame about past addictive behaviors not only fails to help alcoholics avoid these behaviors, but also indicates that they are likely to continue engaging in them.”

In later blogs we will address how accepting one has an illness called alcoholism and that one was indeed powerless over past behaviours leads to a transforming power in processing and dissipating these shame based feelings concerning past behaviours.

We become free from this past as it is the non-processing of these negative emotions which keep us tied to the past via the evident negative emotions it reactivates. Negative emotions which in turn activate negative addictive behaviours to cope with these feelings.

This processing of the past or “clearing way the wreckage of the past” leads to an increased ability in emotion regulation and a narrowing focus on dealing with such feelings and emotions in present, every day recovery. Step 4 and 5 inventory helps illuminate which particular negative emotions and their dysregulation trip us up in our every day lives.

I believe the so-called “defects of character” I continually exhibit when distressed are distinct patterns of emotions expressed due to emotion dysregulation. A still ever present in these dysregulated negative emotions are shame which often leads to self pity. This shame-self pity axis could lead to “poor me, pour me, pour me a drink” if I am not vigilant, even if I never want to drink again.

It is my emotional dysregulation that I need to be constantly aware of, my underlying condition.

I suffer from alcoholism not alcohowasm.

As a result I need constant regulation (or inventory) of these continually occurring negative emotions so that I can identify, label and process (often by/through sharing with another recovering person). In other words, the 12 steps leads to a greater ability to manage our emotions one day at time by becoming aware of the damage this emotional dysregulation has caused in the past and has the potential to do so again.

This manageability of our condition leads to an emotional sobriety. A living of life on life’s terms.


1. Randles, D., & Tracy, J. L. (2013). Nonverbal displays of shame predict relapse and declining health in recovering alcoholics. Clinical Psychological Science,1(2), 149-155.

Shame and Addiction

In the next few weeks we will be looking at Shame and Addiction – shame leads to the self pity and depression that can drive drinking and relapse – nicely summed up here in this quote from  The Little Prince.

“- Why are you drinking? – the little prince asked.
– In order to forget – replied the drunkard.
– To forget what? – enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
– To forget that I am ashamed – the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
– Ashamed of what? – asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
– Ashamed of drinking! – concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
And the little prince went away, puzzled.
‘Grown-ups really are very, very odd’, he said to himself as he continued his journey.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


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