Getting Over Abuse and Neglect
Getting over abuse and neglect in recovery used to be pushed aside as an outside issue. It is not playing doctor to talk about healing these important issued. We all have them to some degree. It is more properly caring and sharing our recovery. Abuse is all too often a misunderstood, denied and neglected topic in recovery. Some of us do not want to bring it up while others make it the focus of their lives. As addicts, we have all suffered abuse in one way or another. Any event, action or feeling that helped to chip away at our self-esteem, faith, or trust in others is abuse. Part of the disease of addiction is our lack of perspective and balance. When approaching this topic, we need to take special care in trying to find a middle ground. Some reactions to physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect may include incest, domestic violence and symptoms of trauma. These different and varied reactions develop to avoid the pain of abuse and are the secondary phase of the problem. As addicts in recovery, we want to be able to enter a phase of healing as soon as possible. We seek to do this before our disease begins to set up house and makes us believe these horrors are what we deserve. This process began when we were little kids and did not know it was different in other families.
The ability to deal effectively with abuse issues will come in time. Part of your recovery will deal with abuse. Although surrendering, believing in our sanity, and allowing God to care for us will give us time to realize our assets and liabilities, we need to take special care here. Many of us remind ourselves that God will not give us more than we can handle. An aspect of our personality that is not defective and does not need to change immediately is the one that is keeping us from the repetition of a painful experience. We may need to deal with our past pain before the aspect ceases to have a function and becomes a defect. As we begin to feel and remember things that have happened to us, we often feel overwhelmed. Most times, we are not ready to do this right away so we do not need to push ourselves. Everything will come when we are ready to cope. We learn the tools to deal with these issues from other addicts who have been through similar experiences.
Sometimes, we may find these issues coming up for us and we continue to deny their value, therefore, the pain continues to eat us from the inside out. Often we have to hit a bottom in this before we can bring ourselves up to a point of admitting that we need to deal with this issue. We must continue to follow the program, no matter what.
One addict shared: "Abandonment reaches down to the depths of my soul. The pain it created tormented me for years. When I was being told that I was stupid, ugly, and not worth loving, I couldn't understand why they hugged me, kissed me, and told me to have sweet dreams. I was very confused.
"Then while the sexual abuse happened, I was too afraid to tell my parents because I didn't want to feel ‘thrown away’ again. So to me it was safer to stay in that familiar pain rather than risk my parents throwing me out like an old doll."
Too often, our fear of trusting others keeps us in denial. If we didn't learn to trust as children, we must learn to trust ourselves and others now. We need other people to do this. We do this the same way that we learn about any other subject - we open our minds. We allow ourselves to get curious. We collect information and ask questions of anyone who might have our answers. We set up a learning experience. We keep trying out new things until we find something that works for us.
Sometimes, our painful experiences are rooted in family problems. Problems occur in all families regardless of the culture, income level or social status. Many times, we have thought that if we could just separate ourselves from our families, we would be okay. We are still sick inside. Circumstances that we experienced in childhood have resurfaced in marriage and other adult relationships. We may find ourselves attracted to abusive partners simply because that is the role that we learned growing up. We will remain in the cycle of abuse after getting in recovery if we do not take action to change it.
The cycle of violence repeats itself until broken. The original violence can be in the form of physical, sexual, emotional, or mental abuse as well as a combination of these. The violent reactions come out primarily as power and control issues. Many addicts, whether using or clean, fall into this pattern. This behavior is familiar to them because they were controlled or abused in their past. This disease tells us that we need to find someone to take care of us so that we do not have to be responsible. When we do not take responsibility for ourselves, we give others power and control over us. We have the choice. We do not have to be the victim anymore. This is another form of dependency and we learn that it does not matter whether it is on drugs or on people. We need to grow up and become independent. We must teach people how to treat us appropriately. People will treat you the way that you allow them to treat you.
Unconsciously, we maintain our pain by seeking out destructive relationships and situations. Sometimes we can not see the abuse going on because we are so accustomed to it in our lives. Our walls of denial are so high because we are our own worst critics. We fear and distrust ourselves and we think that others would be even more critical of us than we are of ourselves. Our negative self-image makes us think we can not change and that we are failures. If our parents, relatives or teachers were very critical of us, they reinforced some negative feelings in us towards ourselves. Because of our continuing cycle of pain in reaction to mental, physical and sexual abuse, we still suffer. These memories trigger common feelings and fears that are at the root of our disease: denial, anger, fear, guilt, shame, betrayal, low self-esteem, uniqueness and lack of acceptance.
One addict shared: "I was a victim of sexual abuse as a young child and learned to play the victim role to get what I wanted. As life went on, a lack of trust reminds me of the fact that I should not allow anyone to use or exploit me.
"The hopelessness that I feel because of being on the outside looking in is hard on my partner. How can I as a victim pass on my experience, strength and hope and show you that you can live through it and grow?
"Recognizing our denial is a step in the right direction. I see the reality of the issue and the emotions it brings up. I work through the pain and see the insanity that I exposed myself to because of the pain. I believe that there can be a healing process, that there is hope!"
One important thing that we come to realize in recovery is that no one can abuse us unless we choose to allow it. Once we become conscious of our own patterns and personalities, we recognize when we are creating a situation. We assert ourselves and act to end the situation before it starts. With each healthy choice and action that we make for ourselves, we get that much stronger and accepting. When we see that we can do this, our sense of self-worth grows. We become closer with God and we share more with others. We realize the importance of the Twelve Steps. We continue on the pathway of recovery with confidence.
Our disease does not want us to examine things clearly and encourages us to hide in the safety of blame. When we open-up, share, begin to sort through what happened and begin to forgive and accept, we disable our disease and break the cycle of guilt and shame. Step Two, gaining a belief in a loving Higher Power, is very important here.
THREAD OF GUILT
To maintain our diet of accustomed pain, we may begin to abuse ourselves later in life. Our low self-esteem decreases to the point where we allow the abuse to continue because we feel unworthy of anything different. This is a sick form of validation or attention-seeking behavior. We came to believe that if we didn't punish ourselves or justify our punishments, that it might mean our parents punished us unjustly. Somehow, the child within would rather suffer the ‘safe’ pain of abuse than the ‘great’ fear of abandonment that the feeling of hatred or indifference from a parent would mean.
Another addict shared: "This is such a very tough emotional and painful issue for me. I am fortunate that I did not remember the sexual abuse until I was eight months into recovery. There are so many emotions. I have anger at my abusers and myself. I feel betrayed because the grown ups who were supposed to protect me did not believe or protect me. I have shame at being a victim. I experience guilt over allowing the abusers to abuse me. I feel dirty because I was a four year old ‘whore.’ I have low self-esteem because I feel like I am dirty and not good for any man. I even have a fear of facing and dealing with it in order to get past it and get on with my recovery.
"Since then, I have had to face it. It is everywhere. How can I run from it? Do I have to face it now? What did I do to deserve this? These questions haunted me for months. I could run by using. Yes, I have to face it now. If I suppress my feelings, they will get me later and will probably only be more painful. I did nothing to deserve it. I was four years old when it started. As I grew older, I sexually abused myself. I can look back now with seventeen months clean and see how the child in me worked with my disease. I learned to use what I had between my legs to get the drugs and people I needed. I figured that if I were a 'whore', I'd be the best damned one around. That way I could tell the men who came back for more that they bored me. It gave me the power to use and abuse men. The joy I got from watching them beg me for sex was sick.
"This issue has now caused problems in my marriage. I was doing my ‘wifely duty’ to keep my husband happy despite how badly I felt afterwards. This self-sacrificing has to stop.
"I can't talk about this with my husband. I shared about it at a meeting where both men and women were present. I was afraid of their reactions but I was suffering more. Their reactions were so diverse and I discovered that I was not alone or unique. They told me that I would be okay; I would heal in my Higher Power's time. They told me that many of my fellow addicts are here for me, supporting and loving me. I can now go to the healing process.
"The healing process may very well be painful but I am open to it. I have no idea how it will actually work other than through prayer, sharing with fellow addicts whose lives this issue also affects, and working the steps."
The thread of guilt that we carry because of abuse weaves through our lives so totally that we may be unable to trace its origins. While we rationalize our role in a situation to avoid guilt, reality allows us to know that we really were victims in instances of child abuse or molestation. Many of us addicts have abuse and neglect issues that affect our recovery in one way or another. We feel different. We feel unique. We feel no one will understand. We feel alone and lost. We also fear rejection. Fear and low self-esteem control us. Because of our inability to trust anyone or anything, we isolate ourselves. We feel that this is something about which people do not talk. We try to bury it as we always have in the past. The abuse issue still haunts us because we cannot ‘will’ it away or ignore the pain. Many addicts with abuse issues feel hopelessly lost. We feel that we are unable to own our feelings or ourselves. More importantly, we believe that we are unable to own our recovery. All we knew how to do was numb ourselves and medicate our feelings. Once in recovery, we can no longer do this. We are no longer able to deny the feelings that surface. If we are going to recover, a healing process must take place. If not, the cycle of violence will not be broken. We will continually make ourselves the victim. Our recovery will continue to suffer because of our inability to move forward.
Many of us are in our mid_thirties before we can remember abuse. Usually we blocked it out before then. Many of us feel shame and do not know why. We just feel that we are no good or feel like a bad person. Guilt is feeling bad about something we have done. Shame is feeling bad about who we are. Toxic shame is the feeling that we are bad and guilt is the only moral option open to us. Many addicts talk about feeling different from others - not as good as, less than, inadequate and undeserving. Some of this is a part of our disease.
If you allow others to boss you around and control your life, they will. We must give up people pleasing and approval seeking. We must learn to speak up for what we want and need. We are not healthy in recovery if we are being a doormat. Assertiveness is a necessary skill.
We may look around at friends, mates, employers or sponsors and realize that they are all takers and we are running out of anything to give. While care-taking others, we are losing ourselves. So, we must use our power of choice and pick to be around people who treat us the way we want and deserve to be treated. We need to be careful not to stay in bad relationships hoping they will change. This is an illusion (like the denial of our disease). Realistically, we must accept things as they are now. To stay in bad situations is self-punishment. We deserve to receive respect and dignity from others.
As with every other aspect of our disease, sharing, caring and honesty are the keys to recovery. Abuse is often more upsetting than other areas, but when we approach it through the Steps and with spiritual principles, we can overcome it.
Sponsorship of an abused addict can be difficult if the sponsor did not live through abuse as well. We have to wait until the member is ready to get help and actually asks for help. Until we are open to help, we stand in fear of judgment and any attempts to help us may frighten us into our pattern of denial and flight.
It is important for the sponsor to help their sponsee by putting them in touch with someone who can relate and who has worked through this issue using the Twelve Steps. Victims can not trust themselves, others or the process of recovery. Only patience, time, and understanding can allow a person to discover who they are in a safe place, come out of hiding, and begin to heal. We are not doctors and cannot employ any roles of authority beyond sharing our own personal experience.
Frequently others in our lives who do not have backgrounds of abuse have a hard time understanding our process. Partners of abused persons experience in their own way the feelings we have that result from past abuse. Allowing the past to dominate in the present occurs because we are unable to process it and put closure on the past. Until we do so, we will carry the past into every relationship and chance meeting. We will punish others for what they cannot know. It is our job to be happy, process this junk and get on with our lives free.
An addict's partner shared: "My feelings of helplessness and pain are overwhelmingly frustrating. I feel that no matter what I do or don't do, trust will not occur! The hurt and pain from her heart is that of uncontrollable emotions, confusion and anger!
"I want to know that my helplessness is real. Except for patience, love and most of all faith, what can I do? The willingness to understand or even try to understand is futile. Since I've not discussed this with others, the feelings that I experience change from love to hate to total confusion.
"Daily, I feel I should just leave her but then a second later, my love and faith is replenished and reorganized as fast as this thought occurred."
Often one of the partners feels ignored and that so much attention revolves around the abused partner. It is essential in this healing process that we do not minimize or ignore our partner's value. Integrity is vital for ongoing communication, equality and balance. What we say needs to match up with what we do for us to be real persons. These principles apply in whatever type of relationship we are having: friendship, parenting or sponsorship. Couples already involved with these very sensitive and important issues, come to believe that together they can survive their dilemma and deepen and enrich their relationship with deeper commitment, respect and acceptance. The very nature of this process is often frightening and complicated. There is hope. We rely on the promise of 'together, we can - divided we die.' Trust and gender issues create problems that hinder the sharing of pain. Sincere confusion makes it hard on our partners. They want to do something but nothing seems to help. Partners have to come to terms with their own powerlessness. Abuse issues are but one limb on the tree of our pain. It is important for all addicts in recovery to remember that it is easy to sabotage our recovery by taking on the problems of another. We can not let worrying about what others think define what we think of ourselves. We must be free to share. Keeping our pain inside denies others the opportunity to learn who we are. We need to confirm, deny or explain our feelings.
Some of us have to deal with day-to-day reminders of our past. In order to live, many of us developed ways to deal with physical and sexual abuse as well as suppressing the feelings that we had behind the abuse. Some of us ‘blink’, having a temporary removal from the situation. This is when our eyes closed or went blank. We stopped moving our bodies and ceased to be part of what was happening. Many of us still experience a definite blink when trying to recall our pasts. We still know how a ‘blink’ feels. We can still do it if necessary. It is part of how we survived our pain, fear and helpless terror when we were small. Getting hurt badly results in panic and depression. Panic is fleeting; depression is not being able to flee. When abused, we often had to leave our bodies rather than experience the situation. As we begin to deal with these issues in our lives, we begin to feel the feelings that we had avoided. This can be scary and seem overwhelming. It is very important for us to share our feelings with others and to maintain a close bond with the God of our understanding.
We need to find someone willing to walk us through these changes. We ask them if they will help us and get them to verbally agree. With the love and support of just one other person, the promise of ‘never alone’ becomes a reality for us. With the willingness to act, we can do anything. Intangible forms of abuse, those not physical in nature, are harder for many of us to accept and recognize. Mental abuse is visible only to someone open to the possibility and discerning enough to be able to separate abuse from normal interactions. Mental or emotional abuse is as damaging as any other form of abuse. It may in ways be harder to detect or deal with because of its apparently immaterial nature. Whether the abuse was one continuous session or small attacks, the effects left in a person by mental abuse are often very visible. Just as damaging is neglect and lack of any attention at all. Some have become excessively passive or aggressive to cope with those feelings. Individuals may be shielding themselves from closer interaction that would reveal their pain.
Our disease tries to separate us from the fellowship any way it can. Many of us have experienced physical or sexual abuse that we feel will kill us if we look at the pain it has caused us in our lives. We feel isolated and alone. Our disease tells us that we are different and that others do not know what it was like for us. We feel ashamed and dirty. We are afraid to tell others because we fear their judgment. It is important to remember that we are not alone, that others have similar experiences. When we surrender and share with other addicts, our pain begins to lessen. If the addicts we chose to share with are unable to relate to our specific pain, they help us find other addicts who can. We gain strength and hope, when we realize that we are not alone and we can walk through the ‘pain and fear’ and live.
For many of us, our first means of escape was leaving our bodies in order to cope with the pain in our lives. This built in defense mechanism was necessary when we were experiencing abuse. As we continue to grow in our recovery, we begin to feel a sense of safety. We have escaped. With time, we are able to remain in touch with ourselves.
The longer we stay clean, and continue to work on our recovery, the easier it is for us to recognize when we are reacting to our past experiences and not to our present situations. We may set unrealistic goals or create crises to protect us from unwanted attention. We frequently avoid giving ourselves a chance. First, we expect criticism and then we demand it. It is a sick form of attention-seeking behavior. We claim to fear judgment, shame, and guilt and yet we go out of our way to punish ourselves. Judgment of others is a key. We may accept abuse as our due. Abuse begets abuse.
Most of us deny that the abuse took place. In our First Step experience, we find ourselves unable to deal with portions of our early lives. For many of us, our adult lives were so awful that we could easily forget events and situations that happened when we were small. Sometimes it may have seemed like a bad dream. Since it hurt to remember, we found it easier to forget. We continue to grow in our recovery. We become productive and responsible. It is important to remember that we should not be ashamed of our abuse or abusers because we are not at fault. Our responsibility is to seek recovery. Although the abuser may have been a family member or a loved one, it is imperative that we put our embarrassment aside and share our experience with others. By sharing our secrets, our pain is less and others may take hope from our courage. We are free to hold on to our pain as long as we can stand it. Sharing breaks the hold that our painful secrets have had over us. Once this power is broken, it has no way to renew its grip on us.
Many of us feel that childhood experiences can not hurt us today. We are so stuck in our background that we forget we can snap out of it and go on with life. This is actually normal for most adults whether addicted or not. Our desire for recovery urges us to include a realistic look into our past, especially our impressionable formative years. What took place back then left lasting images of the world and our relation to things in that world. Without further consideration, these images will remain the same and that can really trip us up when we begin to recover. Often something we see or hear will trigger our memory and we feel our old pain again. Frequently, we do not understand why we react so strongly to certain things and we certainly do not associate it with the past. The longer we stay clean and continue to work on our recovery, the easier it is for us to recognize the times that we are reacting to our past experiences and not to our present situations.
For those who did not receive nurturing or who suffered physical abuse, hugging everyone in the room can be a terrifying experience. In a situation where everyone seems comfortable touching each other and saying, "I love you," it is very easy for an addict with limited parental love to feel excluded. The disease tells us, "These people obviously don't understand me." Feelings of being unworthy and loneliness need to be dealt with but first, they must be recognized. We can only get help with things that we are in denial about when we shown what those things are. It is important that groups create an atmosphere of recovery. It is important that we talk about feelings and thoughts so that everyone can feel included. Victims of abuse rarely understand that others have the same feelings and problems although the origin of those feelings and problems are different. The feelings and problems are the same and are subject to the solutions that the principles offer us.
We must not neglect or abuse each other in the Fellowship. Also, we must daily live the principles of love and acceptance. Many of those who suffered from neglect will not even recognize love for a long time, much less respond to it. It will take even longer for them to respond with love. We must let them into our daily lives. We must allow them to watch us and learn that the love and support will not go away. We must allow them the experience of knowing there is someone ‘there’ for them, no matter what. Victims of abuse rarely recognize safety and gentleness, and may confuse normal social interaction with verbal abuse. Only time will teach them to recognize the safety and love of the Fellowship, and only time and personal experiences will teach them other skills. Because of our distorted thinking, what we think is ‘socially acceptable’ can be quite destructive to everyone involved. We need to teach each other new ideas of society and belonging to that society. We can not expect someone to love unconditionally if they do not even know what love is. Accepting casual help from someone may create excessive feelings of obligation or expectation that make simple interactions seem hurtful or threatening. Those of us who do not have these problems may forget the benefits that we enjoy from experiencing the good treatment of others. Those who are more accustomed to pain and harsh treatment will experience confusion when they are treated kindly.
We discover that many of the bad dreams really happened and continue to hurt us. We may not be able to change what happened, but we can change what it means to us. We can go back as adults and mentally revisit the events with our adult abilities to strengthen us. We may even find different interpretations for what happened. The guilt and suppressed anger devastate us in the present.
Most of us are furious with ourselves. We feel that if we were good people, only good things would have happened to us. We may even feel that it was somehow our fault. We might think that we could have stopped what was happening if we had only done something differently. Consequently, we feel like we must have done something to deserve the abuse. Our little spirits tried to make some sense of the event no matter how unfair or cruel it was.
Our anger has been focused on our attacker or abuser. How could they do this to us for no good reason? What gave them the right to do this? Boys and girls are both victims of these types of abuses on an equal basis but we generally identify only with the members of our sex. We forget that pain is pain.
We spent years developing a memory base to explain and live with what happened. Whenever we attempted to venture beyond the parameters of our rationalization, we fall into despair and depression. We may not even experience these things on our surface, especially if the events happened in our early childhood. It has been with us a long, long time. We may still ask, "Why did it happen to us?" Thinking that it will never go away generates depression. This disease will not allow us to have any hope of dealing with the event in a satisfactory manner. We may even feel that there is no answer and no possibility of help. Getting real about our hopelessness may just give us hope. We may discover that it is impossible to feel so hopeless once we are dealing with issues out in the open or at least with the special people in our lives.
If we work our way through to acceptance, we may come to realize that these events and situations really took place in the past. We realize that they have not happened to us against our will for some time now. If we find that these things are still happening, we can stop them by giving ourselves permission to live happy lives. We focus on the worst of the events or happenings and admit that they happened. What happened was not our fault. We were victims of a situation far beyond our control. Having worked through some of our feelings with a degree of relief may encourage us to go all the way. We find a place to sit quietly and allow ourselves to relive the incident as vividly and clearly as possible. We give ourselves permission to experience the anger and indignation that we may have suppressed for a long time. We found that we had to work through our anger no matter how long it took. Eventually we could even forgive those who abused us. We understand that they did the best they could with what they had to work with to deal with their pain and confusion. They may have been victims of abuse themselves.
We confront the issues and write down or think through clearly what we would say to the individual who hurt us if we could. We must state clearly our position as individuals as well as what our feelings and reactions are. Before we are done here, there are other things we need to do to complete the process of healing. We have to forgive our abuser as well as ourselves. Forgiveness does not mean that we like what happened. It only means that we are willing to let it subside into the past now that we have done all we can. This frees us to go on with our lives. Many of us have fallen into the victim role. We believe that we are helpless and that everyone hurts us. Another thing we should do is to make a commitment to ourselves that we will not be a victim again. When we begin to work the Twelve Steps, we come to believe that we are no longer victims. This discovery includes our right not to victimize others, as we were ourselves victimized. Everything that we have experienced in our lives brought us to where we are today. There are no victims in recovery - only volunteers.
When we work a solid program of recovery, it is impossible for us to remain victims. Part of the healing process is learning to take responsibility for our part of things that happened and accepting the actions of those who hurt us. When we begin to use our skills of empathy and understanding, we let God help us to initiate the forgiveness of those we formerly blamed. We realize they are as sick as we are. This is when we start to heal. We must not continue to blame ourselves for things that we did not do. Often we need to talk to our sponsor or other addicts with similar experiences to help us sort out who is responsible for what. In some cases, an inventory may be necessary and requires honesty with one's self to share with others.
CHILD ABUSE _
A RECOVERING ADDICT'S PERSPECTIVE
Healing in this area is a long process. It may take years. Some seek many kinds of therapy to release the energy of the pent-up anger, rage, and hurt to get back in touch with that crushed child's spirit. Some of us use physical exercise or meditation. The important thing to remember is to hang in there. It will get better. Keep working your program, doing all of the maintenance things that have always worked for you in recovery and add what helps. Some extras that we have found helpful are more contact with our sponsor or friends in recovery, more meetings, more writing, extra prayer, meditation and quiet time. We have faith that we are healing and we can be good to ourselves. We know that we will come out on the other side a happier, stronger, healthier person.
We try to be the best person that we can be. We stop feeding into self-pity, self-centeredness, selfishness and depression. We reach out to others and show concern for their well-being. We give as well as take. We make the effort to be a friend and to have friends. We weed out the things that make us feel bad about ourselves just as we would weed a flower garden. We leave or add whatever makes us feel good. For example, if participating in gossip or lying leaves us feeling guilty, we stop doing it. It may take a while to figure out what we are feeling and what is causing it. As we become aware, we pull out the weeds. As we do something nice for another without seeking recognition, we nourish the good feeling in our hearts. We allow ourselves to receive and to feel worthy.
Narcotics Anonymous helps give us the courage to open up to others and share honestly. All of us surrender in order to start the recovery process. Healing from abuse begins the same way. When we realize that the principle of surrender and the feeling of vulnerability that results are the same regardless of the focus of the surrender, we find it easier to do. We can become intimate. Sometimes, our negative self-image reflects our parents, relatives or teachers being very critical with us when we were young. Many of us carry a hopeless feeling of inadequacy into our adult lives. When we apply the principles of trust and faith, we learn how to overcome this.
In recovery, we begin to accept and love ourselves for who we are. When we love ourselves enough to stop stuffing our feelings, the memories and the pain will surface. This happens automatically as our recovery progresses. We have suppressed these feelings for so long with our drug addiction and relationship fixations. We ducked and dodged our pain for a long time. At some point, we must face the truth. We feel overwhelming sadness for we remember what hurt, rejection and betrayal felt like. After we identify with others, we begin to feel a part of and our shame starts to subside. Many people have been through this. With caring and sharing, we begin to heal. We cry for the child who never had a chance to live, love, and laugh. We mourn the person that we could have been. Molestation ends childhood. We grieve for the loss of self and for the childhood that never was. We often feel extreme anger at those who have hurt us. Many times, it is our parents or other family members with whom we are angry. It is very important that we do not push our anger back down inside us. Many of us in recovery are able to have loving relationships with those who have hurt us in the past. We have put a lot of ourselves into rebuilding these relationships. We do not want to act out of anger and destroy everything that we have worked so hard to build. Periodically, we remind ourselves that this happened a long time ago. Now and again, we bring ourselves back into the present and remember what our relationships are like today.
We stay focused on ourselves and we remember that with the loving help of God, our anger will turn into forgiveness. It is not our fault that we have this disease. None of us intended to lose control. We must let go of this self-blame. Personal growth comes through self-forgiveness. We do need to accept our responsibility for our recovery - and that is to work the Steps, think positive, heal our wounds, develop faith and trust in a power greater than ourselves. Some of the healing comes through working through our feelings - feeling the feelings and letting them go. We must work through the hurt underneath all of the shame. How badly that hurt when we were told we were bad and worthless, etc. We will gradually lose that shame and hold our head up and look others in the eye and be proud of who we are.
Healing this deep psychological wound is painful and difficult at best. We must continue to make meetings, call our sponsor and surround ourselves with recovering addicts. The risk of relapse can increase during this very emotional period. It is very important for us to seek out someone who has experienced grieving. In recovery, we begin to accept and love ourselves for who we are. We have held on to our pain for years. At some point, we have to face the truth.
The only way to heal from any kind of abuse is to grieve the loss and allow ourselves to remember what happened to us. When we are ready, our Higher Power lovingly guides us through. We pray to have the courage to face the fear and we welcome the pain for we know that our Higher Power is healing our fractured personality. We accept the memories and we begin the process of recovery from the pain. As each memory surfaces, it brings with it a flood of emotions. During these times, we allow ourselves the privilege to feel. We no longer have to push our feelings away. We feel the shame and the guilt, the anger and the hatred.
In order to begin the self-healing process, we need to replace the negative thoughts and tapes with positive thoughts and action as we change who we are and begin to feel better about ourselves. Some of this is shame that has come from people who have abused us. They have told us we are bad, worthless or ugly. They have blamed us for many things that are not our fault. We have felt guilty and blamed ourselves for things that are not our fault. We have used this guilt to feel bad and beat up on ourselves. Our disease has used this to help us to feel bad so we will use drugs.
Healing through grief is very helpful to the recovering addict who has survived abuse. Before the healing process began, we could only occasionally glimpse our real personalities in the mixture of our lives. The inner child peeps out now and again and retreats when confronted once more by our anxiety and our fear. The abuse survivor in recovery is usually very confused, lost, and empty. A sensation of blankness can pervade our existence much of the time. Those who experienced severe abuse may also suffer from emotional disorders. Panic attacks, multiple personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders are quite common problems for some of us.
Healing through grief takes time. The length of time differs from person to person. We must remember that there is no ‘right or wrong’ way to grieve pain. We accept whatever comes our way. Healing allows us to be ourselves. We feel whole for the first time. The person God intended us to be comes forth and we take our place in the world. However, recovery does not stop here. We continue with the program. We can not afford to fall into the delusion that this healing means that we heal from our disease. Our disease is still with us. We continue with our Step work. We are grateful to our Higher Power for freeing us and enabling us to give the program our undivided attention. Against the backdrop of our very real pain, it is hard to get positive and jump into positive emotions. Still, if we are to be happy, we need to begin to practice feeling good. If we have trouble with this, we can ask some of our friends to help us with this. Gratitude, tolerance, patience, thoughtfulness, and respect for others will help us develop the emotional muscles we need to open up our lives to everyday reality.
When we got clean, many of us were so full of guilt, shame and remorse that it was hard to find a positive thought about ourselves. We suffered with a low self-esteem and were plagued with negative thinking. Many of us have come from abusive child rearing. Many of us allowed abuse from others and experience guilt and shame over the behaviors that we practiced during active addiction. Doing a Fourth or Fifth Step relieves much of this guilt and shame.
This is not an outside issue! The difficulty is that we must discuss it in general terms so that all of our members can understand. Each of us has experienced abuse and neglect and must realize that we are human beings with the fatal disease of addiction. This disease has given us a primary excuse for using, to cover the pain of living. We need, as a group, to be able to talk freely about these things and openly recover in Narcotics Anonymous. What comes after the recognition of the problem is what's important. When the past is finally in the past, we can begin to enjoy the present and look forward to the future.
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Reprinted from the
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Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.
NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA
All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.