Odd title for a story, but sometimes it is good to get all fired up and go for it with all the gusto and passion we can muster. If you have been to a Twelve Step Recovery meeting you know everyone has the opportunity to share their experience, strength and hope. We try to share what is most powerful, deep, and personal in the knowledge that others will relate. Considering the length of this one, we obviously tried to fit a lot in, but it does reflect a large part of what recovery is about, so please read on.
Fortunate children got lots of support and guidance growing up building skills in relationships, education, economics, sexuality, spirituality, art, music, self care, and many others. These kids often grow up to have wonderful, amazing, and satisfying lives, and may continue to receive valuable assistance, support, and advantages from family, friends, and others through-out their lives. The lucky ones hopes and dreams are realized in many ways.
But what about the others who didn't get much help? The dis-advantaged whose needs were instead neglected in many ways? The arc of their lives takes a much lower trajectory as they navigate life on limited training, and support. The lack of help also results in a nagging often unconscious lack of self esteem that dogs them as years roll by. Something is missing for them, something vitally important. These kids didn't get all of the attention, acceptance, affirmation, affection, and appreciation a child needs for their lives to really blossom and bloom.
And what of those who were actively abused in all the ways that the fortunate ones were mentored? Areas such as relationships, education, economics, sexuality, spirituality and all the others? All the skills and tools the lucky ones received, were often not just missing, lost, and broken for these unfortunate ones, but actively and serially wrecked and ruined in many ways. Many of these children grew up in a battlefield, war zone, or rat-race as refugees, slaves, or prisoners in a living hell that haunts them and replays in the back of their minds throughout their lives.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle, as we received some of the things we needed, but not others, so the arc of our lives have many highs and lows. To truly grow and heal we must face many difficult truths.
We were born pure and perfect but suffered from chronic generational dysfunction as fear, abuse, shame, abandonment and loss in mind, body, and soul. We came to know addiction, depression, panic, post traumatic stress, dissociation, codependency, obsession, and compulsion intimately. We also came to fear authority figures, judge ourselves and others harshly, confuse love and pity, and hook up with other similar people. Our character defects, defenses, and survival traits continue to be problematic throughout our lives unless we find recovery.
Growing up in dysfunctional homes our inner child and True Self went into hiding. A false self developed and took over with many defense mechanisms and coping and survival skills to deal with the abuses. Our hearts growth and life was stunted, had walls built around them, or seemingly died. Others hearts became frozen or hard as stone due to the neglect and abuse. We bandaged up our wounds and took up armor, weapons, and masks to hide our pain and suffering and protect ourselves from further attacks.
Where did we run to when we were frightened and confused? Home? But what if home was difficult or abusive? We yearned for healthy limits and safety but instead learned from neglectful and abusive parent or others to go it alone in excessive self dependence, or give up our needs to others co-dependently.
The pressure of abuses squeezed us like a tube of toothpaste. This pressure tends to collect in our bodies and squeezes the life out of us, in essence out of our bodies and into our heads. Having lost touch with our bodies we become addicted to thinking and try to reason our way through everything. Higher Power is at our center and source, usually as a gut feeling or intuition, so is left behind. Our inner child, our emotional and feeling side is felt in our heart, so moves out of reach. As such we lost our two best friends; our inner child and Higher Power.
The inner child is naturally joyful, spontaneous, vulnerable, sensitive, and authentic, and needs to feel loved, valued, and safe. Over time the lack of love and care or outright abuses caused us to unconsciously adopt character defects, defenses, roles, and survival traits. We return to rescue and revive this precious child through our attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance, and affirmation.
Children often pick up labels such as momma's boy, daddy's girl, or teacher's pet. Some are negatively labeled as problem or bad boy or girl, lost child, scapegoat, loser, shy one, sickly one, fat one, clown, and so on. Others got seemingly positive yet at times anxiety provoking and limiting labels such as the star, super student, prince or princess, athlete, little man or woman (who didn't get to be a kid), and so on.
Lack of interest and attention is abuse as well, in a word, indifference. This creates a hole in our soul we desperately try to fill in many ways. Neglect is withholding the true praise necessary to feel valued and safe. Silence is used to hurt, demonize and deny. Often the victim ends up apologizing. The abuse is internalized as we create an inner critic or abuser, always ready to jump in to criticize and berate from within.
Harsh, critical, negative parenting often comes under the disguise of loving care as we were criticized and made to feel inferior and defective as a way to spur us on and submit to their ideas of what we should do and be. We endured blame, shame, and other abuses on a regular basis until it seemed normal. Repeating this pattern we eventually internalized the behavior and turned it on ourselves and others.
Many children are made to be an accessory to parents seeking to fulfill an idealistic image of the perfect home and family. Some felt as if they were never heard, never could relax, or have joy and fun. Oppressive fear leads to oppressive control. The manipulation and enabling attract ever more sick people and situations into our lives in reaction to the neglect and abuses we endured.
We thought we were responsible for parents, siblings, and others unhappiness and problems and often mistook control and manipulation for a real relationship. Many became bullies, perpetrators, and persecutors in a sad and sick effort to get even for past abuses. Others inherit perfectionism trying to avoid rejection and abandonment. We fear ever making a mistake or believe we are always wrong and never good enough. Dysfunction in youth leads to addictive work, sex, spending, eating, drinking, drugging, relationships and other impulsive behaviors.
The Twelve Step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous came into being to address the problem of alcohol addiction and the great suffering it caused for so many people. Without AA they had little hope, so saw a future ending in either the hospital, jail, or cemetery. This led to many also very powerful and successful recovery programs the focus of which here is Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA).
Common ACA family types are; Alcoholic, mentally ill, hypochondriacs, ritualistic, harsh, secretive, ultra religious, militaristic, sadistic, sexually inappropriate or otherwise abusive. Also perfectionist, shaming, conditional praise, divorced, and addictive. Overcoming the influences of our dysfunctional family of origin issues and creating a loving, caring, and supportive family of choice is critical.
As devastating as it is to lose our inner child, we also lose our connection with the infinite power, presence, and wisdom of the universe that is our Higher Power. Whether we call it the Over Soul, Great Spirit, God, or simply The Force doesn't matter, as long as we make the call. For here is the source of all good things such as love, peace, joy, beauty, and, as well as our connection to all others, all life, and all creation.
Quite a loss indeed, and ultimately important that we recover this relationship that is the essence of our deepest self. Early on A.A. found that those with a spiritual focus were twice as likely to recover, for this reason ACA makes no apologies that: "It is a spiritual program based on action coming from love." We find this focus and a loving Higher Power through nature, journaling, prayer, meditation and many other ways.
What is recovery? It is defined as returning to a complete state of health and wholeness, and recovering what was lost or stolen, as there's just no way to be healthy and whole without taking care of our inner child, and with a loving Higher Power and inner parent taking care of us. We need to feel this as intimate conscious connection through-out our days and our lives. This is our hope and our goal. We move from control and conflict to the patience and persistence that help us move forward. We find naming, feeling, and sharing our deepest selves freeing and healing.
This means looking where fears, misperceptions, and distorted thinking has taken us, and caused isolation, victim hood, low self esteem, and judging ourselves and others mercilessly. We needed help, honesty, and acceptance but instead led lives of quiet desperation in fear of people, finances, bosses, police, health, disasters and impending doom. We felt unsafe and unloved, ashamed and abandoned.
We learn it is a generational disease, as we took on guilt and blame from generations past. As such we find a good measure of forgiveness when we recognize our family and others were simply playing out their own dysfunctional heritage. This helps us find compassion for the pain and suffering they have been carrying through-out their lives. The abuses, abandonment, and indifference left deep but hidden scars. The signs are addiction, codependency, fears, despair, anxiety, panic, and post traumatic stress disorders.
We are in fact doomed to pass on shame, self doubt, and codependency to our own children, family, and friends to repeat the cycle unless we do the hard work to become aware of and heal the wounds of our past. Secrets and denial hold our disease together like glue, so that self righteousness, judgment, and pessimism ensue. Ignored feelings, doubts, and chaos live on inside yet will surface under pressure and pain, or other situations that feel like past events, even joyful ones.
We learned helplessness, all or nothing thinking, passive aggressiveness, rage, and self doubt. In reaction we cycle through the victim triangle of victim, abuser, and rescuer. Incidents and abandonments have been denied or ignored until we didn't know what was real. This accumulated disease, dysfunction, and insanity came from parents, siblings, extended family, cultures, communities, and other sources.
Some have blatant issues of depression, addiction and other issues. Many appear highly functional and successful but lack true intimacy and happiness. Like Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, Prince and many others, we learned to compensate or hide problems as best as we could, and as long as we could. The blocked energy manifests through addictions, illness, and other ways.
In recovery we come to realize that we often continue to seek out people and situations that mirror our original upbringing in a unconscious and dysfunctional attempt to heal our early wounds. Even worse, we seek out the people and situations least likely to achieve this powerful but unseen desire.
We come to recognize raging, intellectualizing, exaggerating, and feeling inferior or superior as the emotional addictions they really are. Realizing, admitting, and accepting "It did happen to me" is a first step. We can't read, reason, or think our way to wholeness, it takes surrender to a Higher Power and learning to trust and talk with others who understand and are supportive and safe.
"Easy does it" is good advice on the journey as we get in touch with a loving inner parent and Higher Power and give ourselves space and time to at last really have compassion and care for ourselves. "First things first," means calming our often raging emotions and thinking, and stabilizing addictions through prayer, meditation, and sharing with safe people before moving on to difficult and painful trauma work.
The power of the program was realized in Alcoholics Anonymous as no one can really understand and relate to a child of alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family like someone who has been there and done that for years, perhaps decades or a lifetime. This connection and empathy for each other is the key to finding the courage and strength to at last share ourselves and our pain and suffering at the deepest levels.
We come to realize we are more alike than different, and that we all share a soul rupture that causes us to look outward and elsewhere for love, affirmation, and safety. This is a major issue for many of us. This shared "soul sorrow" allows us to identify with and have empathy for each other and all who suffer. We focus on ourselves and work on our tendency to use whatever we can to addictively fill the laundry list "hole in the soul."
There is nothing like hitting bottom to motivate the action that produces lasting change. Otherwise we live in a hole we keep hiding in and digging deeper and deeper, knee deep or drowning in piss, shit, and vomit until we hit rock bottom, look up, and start to dig our way out. This "rock" is a Higher Power of our own understanding, and can mean others in the program, the wisdom of the teachings, or anything that allows us to let go of our claustrophobic feeling of being lost and alone to work our program, connect with others and the infinite power, presence, and wisdom of life and the universe.
We use a variety of addictions to harm ourselves. Self abandonment flourishes until we eventually collapse spent and bewildered. By not recognizing bottoms we try fool ourselves and others that everything is fine. Denial runs rampant as we isolate, manipulate, and act out through addictions and other self soothing behaviors. Some coming into recovery have significant epiphanies and awareness early on so "float away on a pink cloud" that is often short lived, so this is why we like to say keep coming back!
Our primary addiction to self harm may develop into secondary addictions (eating, shopping, sleeping, etc.) to deal with the pain. The misery may even feel like a high at times as the pain becomes intense, especially if we over-identify with our dysfunctions gleefully telling and retelling our victim story. We come into program "the walking wounded," claiming to be fine. We shut down our connection to our body, feelings, and emotions in an attempt to cover up our bottoms and relapses with addictions and other behaviors. This only prolongs our suffering.
Our disease and self become invisible. We survive life but don't enjoy it. Resilience, determination, and acceptance are necessary and admirable, but we must not use them to allow abuse in our lives. We deserve better! We must "peel the onion" or suffocate in our disease. Like peeling an onion, it gets thicker and juicier the deeper we go, and there are more tears, yet if we "cook" the onion, it adds richness and flavor to our lives. We must seek help. we can't go it alone. It isn't going to be easy, quick, or painless, but it is worth it, you are worth it, and your family and friends, such as they are, are worth it! Life does get much better.
The family dynamics of wonder or wounded inner child, loving or critical inner parent, loving or judgmental Higher Power, and a false or True self are emphasized the ACA program. Rather than physical beings having a spiritual experience, we find we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We learn to live from the inside out rather than be tossed around by worldly concerns outside in. Our world has also been turned upside down by childhood dysfunction, but through recovery we get that turned around as well.
Codependancy is a symptom of our plight because we tended to put others first in an attempt to feel safe and loved. We put ourselves second, and worse yet our inner child and Higher Powers connection to all life and others and the peace, love, joy, and beauty of the universe last. We now turn the direction of our lives to Higher Power first, care for ourselves second, and then others. We must get this straight before we can have any hope of helping others effectively.
Counseling, medication, and behavior modification can only go so far, as Higher Power makes all the difference in the end. God's will, not ours. This is supported through our acknowledgment of wounded inner child, critical inner parent, and condemning Higher Power (false self), and our inner wonder child, loving inner parent, and loving Higher Power (True Self). Many find religion difficult, spirituality easier. The new found freedom can feel frightening as well as exciting and liberating.
We own our losses, let go of rationalizing, minimizing, and denial and instead look into our dysfunctional thinking and behavior We now identify with each other rather than isolate, hide, disconnect, rescue, or become controlling or overly permissive. Being open and honest about our past doesn't betray our parents or others, rather the disease, disorder, and dysfunction. This is how we reconcile our frustration and anger towards others, as they were pawns in this sick, sad and dysfunctional drama just as we were. We may hate the dis-ease and dysfunction, but we try our best to love ourselves and others.
Moving from the prison of isolation is fundamental. Whether we fought, froze, or fled it was usually alone. It is time to reconnect with safe persons and communities and talk, trust, feel, and look, listen, and heal. We can't do it alone, therefore living in healthy community is fundamental. As we look into our habitual thinking and behavior we can let go of the dysfunctional baggage that has been dragging us down for months, years, or decades.
Accepting powerlessness over our past dysfunction is pivotal in recovery. Yet we do have power. All the power of creation as accessed through the greater good and higher law that is our Higher Power. It is not our power, but if we make a strong connection to this center and source it comes to us, and through us to benefit the world in magical and miraculous ways through-out our days.
ACA supports newcomers facing denial, and comforts those grieving lost security, trust, and love. We recognize and feel the despair, anger, guilt, rage and grief in order to move on. Lastly we create a safe space to reparent our vulnerable, sensitive, wounded inner child with gentleness, love, humor and respect. We find the sickness and sadness of the past can pass like storms and the seasons, from a dark winter of discontent to a springtime of new life, a summer of abundance, and fall of bountiful harvest.
Most of us have received positive gifts also, such as a good work ethic, humor, kindness, and many other life skills. And despite the damage done, most parents have made many sacrifices for our benefit. We are wise to find good things to recall as well. For healing we seek full memory of childhood events, feelings, beliefs, and abuses as well as gifts received. Through the meetings, the steps, and other program work, we relearn trust and honesty about our wants and needs.
We now find our true home. It is time to own our truth, grieve our losses, and be accountable. It's not fast, easy, or painless but it is worth it, and we are worth it! There will be tears, anger, and sadness. We must validate ourselves, find our self worth, and be honest, open, and kind with ourselves and others. For many it is the stories we and others tell that at last creates the tremendous compassion and love that melts a frozen heart, breaks a heart of stone, tears down the walls around an imprisoned heart, and brings a deadened hart back to life and love.
We now find our True Self which is the synthesis of all the aspects of ourselves through inner wounded or wonder child, critical or loving inner parent, and condemning or loving, caring Higher Power. This is the happy, healthy, and whole person that is our birthright and who we were intended to be. We at last become real, true, and authentic again, as we break from our family script to freedom and choice as actors rather than reactors.
We go through three stages of recovery: first, we stabilize our addictions and other problematic behaviors, second, we realize our True Self and grieve our losses, hurts, and trauma, and third, we refine our relationship with our Higher Power, ourselves, and others from a healthy spiritual perspective. We now move from troubled and dysfunctional to supportive and loving.
We find we can often endure intense pain, suffering, and loneliness in our recovery because we had them in our youth. Don't give up! Keep meditating, praying, and working the program! We seek wholeness as we incorporate the light and dark in our past, our selves, and our lives now. We find there is value in it all, good and the bad. Bottoms can still manifest physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually in our relationships with ourselves and others. Relapses can occur as well, but we must not give up! The wounds and scars may never heal completely, but like mended bones we come out stronger.
It is time to own our truth, grieve our losses, and be accountable. It's not fast, easy, or painless but it is worth it. There will be tears, anger, and sadness. We can't do it alone, we must talk, trust, feel, as well as look and listen to heal. We must validate ourselves and find our self worth. We must be honest, open, and kind with ourselves and others and remember to play and have fun!
We "give up" to Higher Power as we practice surrender and acceptance. We "meet up" with Higher Power in prayer and meditation, and with our fellows in meetings, steps studies, fellowship, outreach calls, sponsor or co-sponsoring, conferences, retreats, etc to break the grip of isolation, secrecy, and denial. We "own up" and "speak up," as we identify and list our defects, defenses, and survival traits as well as honor and celebrate gifts, skills, strengths and abilities.
We "clean up" and "grow up" as we admit our defects and defenses to ourselves, our Higher Power, and others and make amends wherever possible. We "follow up," as we continue to practice these principles in all our affairs. We "listen up" in conscious contact with our Higher Power. We "step up," as we serve others in the spirit and practice of all the steps to guide us through our daily lives.
A positive home and environment allows the security, confidence, and self esteem we didn't get growing up. We have been dissociating from our feelings through repression, projection, rationalizations. addictions, and excitement. Living with fear and doubt we didn't have a chance to learn strength and confidence.
Although we didn't choose the home of our youth, we can now choose how we want to live. By finding and loving our lost inner child, and creating a loving and caring inner parent and Higher Power we heal our shattered selves to become whole again and gain the love and serenity we yearned for, need, and deserve. Through learning and working the steps, we move from "hurting, to healing, to helping". We at last find the freedom and emotional sobriety that creates transformation, trust, and thriving.