So, What Is It That You Need To Get Into Recovery For?
Written By: Mark Smith
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Recovery? Isn't that for those guys who go to AA? I'm just a normal, non-chemically addicted guy, you say? Actually, recovery is a topic that potentially could apply to almost everybody. That word, "Recovery" is at the very heart and soul of all the work that we do here, including the marital therapy. In fact, if I had to boil down everything that we believe here at Family Tree to one single word, it would definitely be the word "Recovery." Simply put, recovery is knowing the cold hard truth about ourselves and whatever issues that we might have, and then, if you are motivated to do so, committing yourself wholeheartedly to work an effective program for relieving, reducing and resolving that condition. We believe that virtually everyone in our culture could benefit a great deal from the recovery process. In my opinion, very few people are completely healthy, emotionally. We have had a sexually addicted president, a bulimic princess, and a whole host of successful people brought up with either an alcoholic father or a father who abandoned them altogether. Most normal people have a whole lot of emotional baggage. Think about it. It is absolutely normal to come from a fairly dysfunctional family. How many truly great marriages lasting ten or more years are you personally aware of? It is the human condition to have some stuff - so, what is your stuff? In this article I will try to offer you a mental health check-up of sorts. This article is not for the squeamish of heart. Do not read on if you aren't open to some psychological surgery regarding some blind spots that you just might have.
What was your childhood like? No, I don't mean how much fun did you have playing in your neighborhood. I mean, what was the most painful thing that touched you in your family as you were growing up? Think about it; what memories are coming up for you? What was the unvarnished truth about your father and your mother as you were growing up? Your family photo might portray the perfect all American family, but what were the warts in your family? Every family has them.
It is a very rare person indeed who was not hurt in significant ways during childhood. Many people were hurt, but they don't allow themselves to really know about it. They cling to a somewhat childish blind loyalty to their parents. They don't want to know the truth; the myths are much less painful. It hurts too much to really examine painful childhood experiences. Many times folks who are in denial about their childhood experiences were in fact hurt more than they know in indirect and at times subtle ways by parents who were controlling, overly close, critical, uncommunicative, self-centered or just not present emotionally. Unfortunately, childhood issues are far from being old, dead or irrelevant. They will come up and haunt your life. The truth is that our childhood wounds affect us every day of our lives. Thankfully, we humans have an incredible ability to adapt, defend, cope and function creatively and productively in spite of the many ways in which we might have been damaged as children. Thank God for that. Most of us learn to make lemonade out of lemons in a variety of different proactive ways.
The downside of defenses is that strong defense mechanisms also blind us to who we really are and just how we affect the people around us. Our childhood wounds and pain are also at the root of our addictive behaviors. They cause us to try to function in the world from behind thick psychological walls by either being rigid, controlling, oblivious, overly confident, and overly independent ("Counterdependent") or by being passive, insecure, too other-centered, too dependent, and too willing to compromise ourselves ("Codependent") or an unhealthy combination of the two. For many people, a time comes somewhere between the ages of 32 and 45 where they get so worn down by the consequences of their issues (especially on the battlefield of relationships) that they open a phone book and decide to give therapy a whirl. The purpose of this article is to maybe nudge you towards therapyland a few years earlier than you might have started. So, let's get more specific about the particular brand of your "stuff." I encourage you to try to be as open as possible as we examine the specific nature of your stuff.
In our culture, we tend to focus a lot of discussion regarding addictions on both alcohol and drugs. However, the common man suffers from many, many more subtle and pervasive addictive behaviors than chemical dependency. For instance, how does it feel to you when things feel out of your control? If you did not feel safe enough and you did not have enough stability as a child, over controlling your environment as an adult is as natural as breathing-anything but feel that old intense anxiety again and again. Having addictive or compulsive behavior is much more common than the common cold. What do you do to not feel your pain? What works for you? Food is near the top of the list for many people: the wonderful, edible painkiller. It is no wonder that obesity is an epidemic in our society. Work is also a very popular addiction. While most of the other countries in the world take three times the vacation time that we allow ourselves, our hours worked each week continue to rise. Another subtle, but extremely rewarding addiction is what I call "rescuing." It is the compulsive need to spend time, money and energy helping and saving others while neglecting one's own needs. You won't get arrested for being a compulsive rescuer; you'll get community "volunteer of the year" awards. What is the truth about you? What are your favorite addictive or compulsive behaviors-sex, gambling, religion, computer games, food, TV, reading, rage, cleaning, exercising, relationships, smoking, excitement, traveling, etc.? What feedback have you received from your significant other? They are the world's foremost experts on your flaws. They just might know you better than you know yourself. Are there patterns that continue to occur in your relationships? What feedback have you received from your friends or family members? Are you overly needy? Do you tend to smother and enmesh with your loved one? Are you overly sensitive or do you feel abandoned when people back up from you? Are you overly critical? Are you able to apologize quickly, openly and sincerely? Are you overly sensitive to criticism? Do you carry a great deal of anxiety around with you? Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you depressed? How good do you feel about yourself? How well do you handle money-any issues there? What is the truth about you? Do you know? How fulfilled and happy are you? You are far from crazy if you have many of the issues that I have discussed. You are quite normal in fact. If you say that you don't have any of the before-mentioned issues, you have never been married. Marriage is the great unmasker of our unsightly issues. However, normal run-of-the-mill somewhat dysfunctional people need recovery pretty badly. Without awareness of our issues and some progress in resolving them, relationships, careers and lives can get damaged pretty severely. I hope that you are interested in just how the recovery process works, because that is where we are going next.
Recovery begins with pain. It is a wake-up call, the proverbial brick wall that is run into, or a psychological two-by-four applied to a deserving head. Something that really hurts has to pierce the psychological armor. For most of our clients, it is a painfully distant or highly conflictual marriage. It can be a variety of other things though: getting fired from a job, being arrested, having conflict with family members, being severely depressed or suffering with anxiety.
Insight is the next thing that needs to occur. Insight is waking up to smell the coffee. It is coming to know the truth about ourselves. It is not just a clean look into our faults, but also a shame-reducing impactful understanding of exactly why we have the issues that we have. Insight is life changing. When clients come to see us, our goal is to get as much life changing insight into them as soon as humanly possible. Once you understand who you are and where you came from, then we can seriously discuss a plan of getting you to where you would like to be in your life and in your relationship.
After the powerful splash of insight comes the long hard road of grunting out the work. It means a lot of therapy. For most of our clients it means a good bit of group therapy. It means a lot of conflict and "fighting" long and hard in your relationship. It means a lot of tears. It means having the psychological onion peeled back. I know that sounds awful, but it really isn't. It is a powerful and a fulfilling journey-an adventure in the truest sense of the word. You never know what is going to come up next. It means getting to know yourself deeper than you ever have before. It means flushing a lot of old psychological sludge out of your system for good. It means gaining a newfound respect and love for your significant other. It means truly facing the painful issues from childhood and then being able to put many of them into the past for good.
Now comes the payoff. Recovery will bear a lot of good fruit in your life. It will help you to not drive your spouse nearly as crazy as you once did. It will change you so that you will be appropriately vulnerable and intimate in relationships. It will give you the tools to engage in healthy and synergetic conflict. It will resolve most of your issues with depression and anxiety. It won't make you anywhere near perfectly healthy and it certainly won't give you a nirvana-like relationship. It will make your life and your relationship significantly better, though. It is well worth the hard work, believe me.
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