Category Archives: Recovery Tools

These are blog posts dedicated to discussing “the tools” we learn in recovery.

Being Child-Like Is Not The Same As Being Childish

I came across a quote today I’d like to share:

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” — Anais Nin

When I first read this I particularly liked the phrase, “We are mature in one realm, childish in another.”  I grew up on The Muppet Show and at times my sense of humor can be really corny and silly … one of the tools I learned in recovery is that Being Child-Like Is Not The Same As Being Childish.  In my teens I’d been shamed by my stepfather for my silliness and it took more than a decade to realize I need not feel any shame for joy in my childhood.  I had to learn to give myself permission to start releasing it again, and now that I have this same sense of awe and joy I had in my childhood has served me well as an adult.

The same phrase also reminded me of a man I met this past week at a meeting.  We talked after the meeting about early childhood development and how even through our teens and young adult phases we have certain needs … if our growth is halted in any of these phases it can stick with us for decades until we address that phase of development.  All the time I hear about how men these days are nothing but grown up boys, and part of me has feared that having a Child-Like side could be interpreted that way.  It was nice to be reminded that while some dimensions of my personality are well developed it’s okay that others are Child-Like.  I don’t have to be perfect.  I don’t have to be adult 100% of the time, in every way, and in fact trying to be probably isn’t natural.  I’m happy the way I am.  Layers, cells, constellations, and all.

Advertisements

The Five Stages of Grief

During my first year of counseling my counselor told me about the five stages of grief. We all go through these stages whenever we face a change in our lives. Sometimes we go through them in the order listed; sometimes we zigzag back and forth, gradually working our way towards acceptance:

1. Shock/Denial
2. Anger
3. Depression
4. Bargaining
5. Acceptance

My counselor wrote them down for me and to this day I still have that piece of paper taped to my mirror. Looking at this list helps me understand where I am in the process of dealing with changes in my life. It helps me understand where other people are too. It was particularly useful in helping me learn to stand my ground when telling people bad news – saying no to working overtime or to covering a shift for someone else, choosing to go home and go to bed instead of going to see the person I’m dating, telling my roommate that I was moving out – these are all things this list helped me do. Eventually I didn’t even need to look at the list. I knew if I stuck to my guns the other party would work through whatever they needed to work through and accept my decision.

Another way this list is helpful is to view it as a tool. I have a friend whose brother committed suicide. When she becomes depressed about other things in her life she returns to thinking of her brother, and that depresses her further. A few days ago she said she was afraid this reoccurring depression meant she was broken… that she would never be the same.

She’s not broken. There is nothing to fix. Any time we face an unexpected change in life we’re put into Stage 1 (Shock/Denial) and we work through the stages till we find Acceptance of whatever the new change is. As we do this our brains remember other times we’ve gone through the stages. Not being able to differentiate this time through from other times is one of the things that can cause an addict to stress themselves out to the point of reverting to old comforts.

But we’re not on an infinite loop. It’s the same process, but not the same situation. Each time I write the word “think” I’m not referring to the same thought. I use the same hammer for every nail I put in. That doesn’t bother me. There’s nothing broken in us for using the same tool to get us through multiple changes in life, nor for remembering our past – and it doesn’t mean that this time is the same as (or as bad as) other times we had to use the tool.

Take What You Like, Leave the Rest

It’s a challenge to face life and look at the choices I’ve made – and more importantly, the choices I’m continuing to make. Looking at my past I may feel guilt or regret, but the saving grace is that those things are in the past – they can’t be changed. But the choices I make today and tomorrow … those can be changed, if I have the courage. Not everyone has the courage. Some people find one or two things about the tools or twelve-step programs that they disagree with and use them as reasons to turn their back on changing at all. You don’t have to do this.

If I start a new career I don’t expect to know how to use every tool in that field within the first week in the career. Some tools don’t make sense the first time you look at them; some might seem to be completely backwards. It can take years to become an expert. But that’s okay. Start out slow, use the ones you can, leave the rest. Come back and look at it again in six months and you may find another one makes sense now. As you keep coming back, you’ll find more and more things click. In the mean time don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of the tools you can use.

I came to my first twelve-step meeting because I wanted to change, but expecting to change 100% (or even 50% or 20%) overnight is unrealistic. The difference between life and death can be as small as a 1% change. I started with the 1% I could use and let the rest lay there until I found a use for them. I kept going to the meetings so I could continue to learn about the other tools – how they’re used, and when. Eventually I found other tools I could put to use, and I learned additional ways of applying the ones I already knew about.

Family of Origin, Family of Choice

We each have two families in life: the family we are born into, and the family we choose.

We can’t control what family we’re born into. Our family of origin might be full of nice people, full of mean people, or have a mixture of both. We learned many behaviors from our family of origin; these behaviors give us the ability to deal with the personalities in that family. When we get older and move out we start interacting with people who are not our relatives, who were raised in homes different from ours.

At some point we may realize the behaviors we learned in our family of origin don’t seem to work as well with other people, or they don’t work at all. Even after years of frustration some people refuse to accept that their way of dealing with life isn’t the right way, or the best way, or maybe even the only way. People who won’t accept this are trapped in playing the same card game over and over again, with the same results, regardless of who’s sitting at the table. Even though someone might get up from the table and walk away they seem to be replaced by someone who plays the hand the same way.

I have a friend who had a terrible relationship with her mother. Neither had spoken to the other in years, but within the last year the mother mentioned to other family members that she’d like my friend to call. My friend refused to do so, not even to yell at her. She explained that in her family the person making the call was seen as breaking down and accepting the guilt. She saw her refusal to make contact as a sign that she was taking the moral high ground, and though she didn’t like that other family members were being put in the middle she did like that her mother was talking to other relatives about it – she felt this was a sign that it was bothering her mother. She hoped that if she stuck to her guns long enough her mother would be the one to give in and make the call. Meanwhile, they were both interacting with other family members normally… just not each other. I said, “So you’re all sitting there at the table, still playing the same game, but in silence?” She nodded and said, “Pretty much.” I suggested when she’s ready maybe she‘ll get up and walk away from the table completely.

There’s another family we all have: our Family of Choice. The friend I mentioned above had a large group of friends. She was always going out to restaurants, nightclubs, the beach, for exercise, for brunch … they were friends from school, from work, friends of friends. These were the people she chose to surround herself with daily. They were her Family of Choice. The nice thing is that unlike our Family of Origin, we get to choose our Family of Choice. If there’s someone we don’t like, we don’t hang out with that person. If there’s someone who treats us disrespectfully or is always putting us down, we don’t have to associate with that person. If the entire group of people I think of as my friends turns out to not really be very friendly then I can choose to get up and leave, and find an entirely new group of friends who does treat me with acceptance and respect.

Some people that have come into my group have shared that they never had a Family of Choice before coming to the group. Some people have more than one Family of Choice. I’ve known the people in my group for almost ten years – some are like family to me now. I also have a group of friends from school and work that are separate – not because I try to keep them separate, but just because I recognize that many of my friends have no interest in anything related to twelve-step groups (which is fine, that’s their right). The tools I’ve learned in my counseling and twelve-step group have helped me have healthier and happier relationships with both my Family of Origin and my Family of Choice.

Typically people find themselves in a group because of something going on in their relationships – either something has changed drastically, or needs to. What needs to change may be in our family of origin, our family of choice, or in us. More often than not, all three need to change in some way, because a change in one affects the other two. In dealing with these changes we uncover either fears or desires (or both) that we might not have known we had – if we did know about them, we may be surprised how deep they run. These programs teach us tools and help us learn to use them. In the process we take inventory of our relationships with ourselves, with our family of origin, our family of choice, and everyone else in the world. With these tools we learn to forge healthier relationships from here on out.

Specifically, the title of this tool is used to remind us that the pain in our life caused by a relationship with a specific person or group is not the entire world. We have friends, an extended family we can turn to for help, and if we don’t have another family then we can make one. There’s a difference between a house and a home, namely the presence of love. If we don’t find the love we want in our Family of Origin then we can find it in our Family of Choice. If we don’t find the love we want in our Family of Choice that’s okay too – because it’s a family of choice.  That means they’re part of our lives because we choose for them to be, and if we decide we no longer want them in our lives we can choose that too. We can’t change who makes up our Family of Origin, but we can decide whom we consider our Family of Choice.

H.A.L.T.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Don’t go shopping for food when you’re hungry.” If not, the wisdom behind the saying is that if you go food shopping when you’re hungry you may put more food in your cart than you really need, you may buy food that looks delicious but is bad for you, or you may throw so many things in the cart that you get to the register and find you can’t afford it all. This tool expands on this idea.

As an acronym, H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. The word halt means to stop. The idea is that when you’re experiencing any of those four things, STOP. Otherwise you’ll find your ability to make rational choices is affected. The more strongly you’re experiencing those four things the more it affects your decision-making.

I know this from personal experience. I know when I need to eat, and if I’m not able to I start to get cranky. The more time passes the crankier I get, and if I continue to go without food at some point I turn into a complete asshole. At that point I don’t want to hear anything, I don’t want to know anything. I don’t care about you, I don’t even care about myself. I’ll give you permission to do whatever the hell you want, just get me to a place where I can eat. My ability to be rational is diminished. If I’m faced with an important decision the best thing I can do is to put it off until after I’ve dealt with my hunger.

Some people can go all day without eating, but hunger’s only one of the four items listed. If being very angry, lonely, or tired affects you, first take care of that need. When you’ve done this you’ll find your mind clears and you’ll feel healthy and rational again. Then go back to your decision and make your choice.