What is the definition of “true recovery”?
Many people speak of true recovery but don't really define what they mean by the phrase. Yet we must understand the meaning of true recovery if we want to succeed at achieving it.
What are we working for in recovery? Simply happiness? Perhaps that's the case for some, but certainly not for all. But it begs the question, if I'm not happy all the time, do I lose or negate my recovery?
The first thing we accomplish by advancing in a positive way in recovery is getting the ability to feel our feelings back. Our addictive behavior patterns and defensive character structures were built up within us as a way to divert us from being overwhelmed by negative feelings. But it's necessary to feel negative feelings at times, although we don't have to get overwhelmed by them.
Consider your senses. The five primary senses are sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. They are akin to surveillance cameras that tell us what's happening around us. But they don't tell us what we feel about what these metaphorical cameras perceive.
That being the case, we’ll often have questions about our feelings. What does the soft touch of a velvet blanket make us think about, and what does it make us feel? What does a sunset that we see with our eyes make us feel? What does beautiful music make us feel?
What do we feel when mommy startles us because she yelled at us out of frustration about our not listening to her? What do we feel when daddy gives us a spank on the tush? What do we feel when we were seven years old and those in the classroom laughed at us because we did something embarrassing? What do we feel when someone who we had a crush on rejects us? What do we feel when we’re fired from our jobs?
We feel something in all of those situations. But for most of us, our feelings are cut off. Just imagine that in order for you to survive your childhood you had to put a blindfold over your eyes because whatever you were seeing was so terrible that you couldn't handle it. Imagine if you had to wear earplugs to block out horrible noises throughout your life. The fact is that we do something akin to doing those things when we attempt to handle emotional experiences: We block out emotional experiences when they are too overpowering.
As we mature, we can slowly let go of difficult memories and experiences that are trapped within us. We can regain our ability to feel our full range of emotions. Yet we may have emotional setbacks during times such as when we feel grief. But if we feel that grief and process it properly, the grief phases out and no longer hurts us.
When we were young, though, we usually weren’t able to do that kind of emotional processing: We didn't have the proper mechanisms to overcome our repression of grief and other negative emotions. Instead, we engaged in “acting out behavior” that would make us feel good again. We'd become addicted to substances such as candy, or become addicted to behavioral shortcomings such as lying, stealing, excessive anger, or inattentiveness.
In youth, many of us didn't have people who could help us articulate our feelings around us. Because that was the case, we would shut down and repress our painful emotions. When we did that, it would cause us to experience more pain. And eventually we'd seek something outside of ourselves trying to feel good again. In the short run, doing that would work. But then in the long run we’d do such things over and over again until we found ourselves addicted to substances and negative behaviors. Subsequently, it became difficult to let go of those things that we felt we desperately needed.
Surprising to some, one of the most painful emotions that we feel when we're children is just simple anxiety. When we were children, a certain degree of anxiety existed within us, and it served as a survival mechanism. That anxiety enabled us to alert grown-ups when something was wrong. But if our needs weren't met quickly, we would develop complexes associated with those needs not being met. And our anxieties would be amplified when we felt the need for a diaper change, love, security, playtime, food, or a nap.
If our parents didn't meet our needs at times, it's highly unlikely that they had malicious intent. They may have been too busy and disconnected, and they likely had baggage from their own childhoods that they hadn't worked through.
Excessive anxiety is a serious emotional problem that needs to be addressed. If we experience freedom from it, we can in essence defrost frozen feelings that block us from mental and emotional health and wellness. And overcoming excessive anxiety requires focused recovery work.
Philosophies and theories inherent in modern psychology are for the most part very, very accurate. Having said that, I don't think that addiction is fully comprehended or fully addressed within the parameters of psychology. This is surprising to me, because eradication of addictive behavior centers around ridding oneself of painful attachments and resolving past traumatic experiences.
It's strongly advised for anyone seeking true recovery to engage in therapy (especially talk therapy) with competent mental health professionals. People who are in the type of therapy that’s suitable for them can dig very deep into their subconscious minds and bring painful events to the surface. When they do, they can subsequently gain perspective and understanding of those events and even feel them in order to get them to dissipate energetically.
Energy from negative feelings drains us of energy that we could be using for positive purposes. And it's also a formidable problem that negative feelings are not facts about what's actually going on in the world. As an example, we might be feeling insecure about a relationship in which things are quite stable. In such a situation insecurity would not be warranted. But there might be insecurity that’s driven by subconscious reactions to past events that had nothing to do with the current relationship. And when that's the case, the mind is still broken and not properly computing the current reality.
A primary goal in recovery is becoming able to see reality for what it truly is: We tend to view reality in accordance with faulty patterns of thinking that we have developed because of improper mental and emotional reactions to past events.
Falsely perceiving reality has many consequences. For example, we might be in a very toxic relationship but be in denial of its toxicity. We may think of bad relationships as being wonderful and perfect even if they create anxiety and turbulence in our lives. Or we might mentally justify our staying in patterns of addictive substance abuse or negative emotional behaviors: Doing so is being in denial of situations that need to be addressed.
Certainly there are things that we do habitually and very often that we should not consider to be addictions. Such things include drinking water, breathing air, and brushing your teeth. They are positive behaviors that are necessary for your health and wellness. And you should never have to debate within your own mind the efficacy of engaging in positive behaviors rather than negative ones.
How can we know if healing is occurring within ourselves? What are some of the indicators that healing is taking place?
- Behavior patterns changing for the better.
- Elimination of poor behavior patterns.
- Mood improvement.
- Becoming productive members of society.
- Recovering our ability to feel the range of our emotions without reservation and without becoming overwhelmed and excessively anxious.
- Becoming able to access our creativity and natural talents.
- Reconnecting to the oneness that is the true nature of reality.
We can indeed achieve healing and true recovery. It may not be easy to do so. But if we do then it will greatly benefit both ourselves and others and be well worth the effort.