- Mental Health
Healing from Addiction in 12 Steps
In church basements, college campuses and various meeting halls around the world, there are groups of adults of all ages and walks of life gathering together to face their pain. The pain is not new but raw all the same. These people have come to discover that they are addicts. Some of them are addicted to alcohol or drugs, some are addicted to helping others, these are called co-dependents, there are gambling addicts, shopping addicts, sex addicts; the types of addiction are wide but the cause is narrow. There is but one cause of addiction, and that is shame.
Somewhere at some time (most likely in childhood), irrevocable damage was done to the addict. This damage could be viewed as a crime of the soul; the soul is forced into hiding and effectively disappears. The offender has performed the greatest destruction of all, because his victim is left to live a life of infinite pain. On the surface the victim will still seem alive, they will breathe, walk, they may even laugh and smile, but below the surface the effects are insidious. There is one place where the pain will be transparent and this is in the eyes because “the eyes are the windows of the soul.”
This abuse of the soul can take place in a variety of ways. One way is through a barrage of verbal abuse, such as when a parent might say “you are so stupid” or “what is wrong with you?” Alternatively, it can be a more subtle use of language such as “why didn’t you get an A?” Physical abuse creates disdain for a person’s own body as does its wicked stepsister, sexual abuse. There can also be the kind of shame that the entire family shares in hiding. Shame and 'secrets' get handed down. Shame can also come from neglect. When a child is uncared for the child learns to see themselves as unworthy and so becomes ashamed of themselves. And our society reinforces many of the shaming messages that children receive at home. Society does so by setting rigid levels of expectation for children to perform to at school in order to simply feel worthy, including the tacit and verbal expectation that girls, in particular, look a certain way or otherwise be judged and ashamed of themselves. A shame they can carry for life. And a shame that can lead to any number of addictions.
Addiction serves to remedy the pain of shame, both temporarily and long term, by providing the person the illusion of escape through sources outside themselves, such as alcohol, drugs, sex and co-dependency among so many others.
These 'distractions' offer the addict an immediate, though ultimately, self abusing, escape from the pain. Alcohol and drugs are mind and mood altering, stimulating or numbing, while co-dependency is an escape because the person doesn’t have to really look at themselves, instead focusing on the lives of others. Though there are many commonly known addictions, there are other less obvious addictions, such as shopping, which serves as a distraction with the thrill of a new purchase followed by the low of wanting more and the return of feeling empty. Addictions also include workaholics and people addicted to making money at all costs. These too work as distractions from the incessant pain of shame.
What most addicts fail to see, or fail to accept, is how precious they are, how beautiful and truly miraculous their existence is. They have essentially been brainwashed into believing that they are simply bad, flawed, a mistake or responsible for other people’s problems. The pain feels inescapable, but that is a distortion. They weren’t born this way; their early, formative experiences forced this view upon them. Each human being is a miracle, each no less magnificent than others. They were born with the miracle, deep inside them, an integral part of who they are, and can never be taken away, only given away. Learning to accept this is what 12 step programs are all about. It is not easy to arrive at the point in their lives where they are finally ready for the program, ready to trust and accept the program and the fellow members because of their past experiences, but 12 step programs have proven to be healing.
Working the twelve steps allows addicts to break the chains, the bondage of addiction, learning how to love themselves in ways that were never modeled for them. They learn to erase the negative mental tape that plays incessantly in their minds, telling them how awful they are. With truly working a 12 step program though, the addict can live each day, learning to take pleasure in life itself, slowly learning to acquire trust in a world that never seemed trustworthy. There is hope in this place, unlike the desperation they knew so well.
The miracle for the addict is that although the soul may seem to have disappeared for good, it was merely in hiding, waiting for a safe place and time to come back out.
The message to the addict is: You are precious, there is hope, and you can be free.
© 2014 Tracy Lynn Conway