New Year, New Awareness

The New Year is a time of change. We make resolutions to inspire us to live fuller, more meaningful lives. Whether we are in recovery or needing to change the way we respond to life, becoming aware of our resentments and our shadow side can transform our lives.

Resentments are not just a problem for addicts but for all people. They can rob us of our happiness by returning us time and again to past unresolved pain. The AA 4th Step—“made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”—is a time-honored means of clearing away the debris of our past for both addicts and non-addicts alike.

For those of us who are seeking even greater transformation, combining the 4th Step with shadow work can bring tremendous healing and wholeness to our lives. Not only are we doing some much needed psychological housecleaning in the 4th Step, but also uniting parts of ourselves together through shadow work that have been fragmented since childhood.

Let’s begin with the 4th Step—known as the housecleaning step—and then move into shadow work.

If we have the honesty that AA Co-founder Bill W. modeled for us, there is a lot of house cleaning each of us must do. This is true in early recovery and beyond. In fact, we probably will never finish cleaning house since life has a way of pointing out new rooms we need to clean.

When we begin our spiritual house cleaning, we do so by trusting God. Steps 1-3 created that trust. We came to believe that only God’s guidance could help us sort through the things in our lives that were worth keeping and the things that needed to be thrown out. And, if you are like me, that meant most things had to go. The heaviest lift was the obsession with our selves.

This self-centeredness kept us hypervigilant to other’s wrongdoings but blind to our own. We held onto these like they were sacred. They festered into resentments that filled us full of infection. Daily, someone in our life would step on one of our infected toes and our minds became filled with words and images from past imagined injustices we suffered. These became our personal stories. And the tighter we clung to them, the deeper we plunged into our addictive behaviors.

What Bill W. called our “number one offender,” these resentments nearly killed us. Because of this, they create an urgency for us to begin our 4th Step house cleaning. Soon, many of us will collapse in tears, so overwhelmed by the realization that we have been the creators of our own misery.

As we sift through the shambles of our house, we discover the “hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity” that caused us to “to step on the toes of others” and to suffer their retaliation” (BB, 62). Tragically, we had been trapped in the delusion that our thoughts, beliefs, and opinions were sane and rational. And we had continually justified our version of reality despite the suffering it caused us and others. The fact that we were surprised when others reacted harshly toward us only reveals how dysfunctional our house had become.

But our cleaning is not yet done. There exists in the dark corners of our inner basements things we have sensed and always feared. They are the boxes that contain all the qualities and traits that we dislike and have disowned in ourselves. These are elements that make up what psychologists call the shadow. And it takes tremendous courage to face what we have so long pushed away into the cellar of our unconscious minds.

Yet, it is our fearless commitment to our 4th Step that gets us down the stairs. There we come to realize that our resentments were the cries of shadow elements that we had kept hidden from ourselves in those basement boxes. When we refused to listen to them, we cast these shadow elements onto other people by what psychologists call projection. What we disliked in people were actually the traits we disliked and disowned in ourselves. And, like onto a screen, we projected them onto others. Maybe it was that guy you can’t stand because he always has to be right. Follow this link for a step-by-step approach to shadow work: https://wordpress.com/post/blog.rjhandley.com/450

A thorough 4th Step leaves us with an incredible feeling of accomplishment. It gives us the confidence to continue our house cleaning. With self-compassion, we take the 5th Step by admitting to ourselves, to God, and to all we have harmed. The power of this step is that in admitting these flaws to others we make a verbal commitment to do the hard work to change.

In the 6th Step, we recognize that the only think worse than our character defects was defending them. New light has dawned, and we see that they were things that we had done, but they are not who we are. With that separation, we begin to loosen our grasp on these defects. We have made ourselves ready for Step 7. Here we ask God to help us do what we could never do before: to put down these self-destructive traits so we can open the door to freedom.

The miracle has happened. We have cleared the clutter and chaos from our house. For the first time in our lives, we can see with clarity who we truly are. This new found vision has brought us to Step 8 and has allowed us to clearly see who we have harmed.

We make the list, and we are now ready for the 9th Step. Through making amends to the people we have harmed, our house is now clean of past debris. A giant weight has been lifted. And now, through Steps 10-12, called the maintenance steps, we keep our house picked up and clean of what formally caused us so much suffering.

The amazing power of the 12 Steps has transformed us. Each step has empowered us to move from the fear-based operating system of the ego to the love-based operating system of our Higher Power. We have given up our selfish obsession with being the center of the universe. And with it, our frantic desire for control and power that had given us neither and had only made us best friends to loneliness. As we shed this toxic skin, we become more sensitive—more conscious—of the divinity within ourselves and in others; and we become more finely attuned to divinity’s voice that now inspires our thoughts, words, and actions.

Now, too, we find peace and deep comfort in the orderliness and sparkle of our newly cleaned house. We embody a vulnerability and a desire for connection that leaves the front door of our house unlocked to those who are now delighted to enter.

If you’d like to be free of  your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com.  I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling.  I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform.

RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach

Three Steps to Releasing from Anxiety

Mark Twain said, “Some of the worst things in my life never even happened.”  So it is true with me and probably with you as well.  When we follow our anxiety-ridden thoughts to their destination, inevitably we arrive at dark and fearsome places.

Anxiety is always about what MIGHT go wrong.  It hijacks our thought processes and takes us into fretful realms.  We may rise up in revolt, but the flight path seems predetermined and out of our control.

If this process is all too familiar, it’s because we have boarded that plane many times.  We think of an upcoming event or a task, and we play out the scenarios in our minds.  Then, as it often does, that inner terrorist rises from his seat and, before we can stop it,  we are captive passengers on Air Anxiety.

If you’re like me, you have worked hard to avoid anxiety’s emotional hijacking.  And we have tried a variety of methods to do so: affirmations, meditation, positive thinking, changing the thought channel.  Some of us have felt temporary relief from anxiety through the use of alcohol, prescribed and unprescribed drugs, gaming, Internet, and Facebook. Though we resist the tendency, we end up—time and again—passengers on an anxious journey.

Finally, after decades of struggling with anxiety, I have found a workable solution to this emotional hijacking in Acceptance and Commitment Theory (ACT).  And more specifically, in a very accessible book called Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong that applies the core tenets of ACT to anxiety.

“The principle reasons we get anxious is to protect ourselves from anticipated pain,” according to Kelly G. Wilson and Troy Dufrene, authors of the book.

I treated a client who nearly lost his teaching job because kept relapsing into alcohol and drug use to escape all his anxious thoughts.  It was only after introducing him to ACT’s techniques that he was able to release himself from anxiety.

Pain is an inevitable part of life.  Because we have an aversion to pain, we all become anxious at the thought of it.  And ACT acknowledges that all of us—even Zen masters—have anxious thoughts during a typical day.

This is because our brains developed in a very threatening environment.  We were not only predator but also prey.  What was bad was bad AND what could be bad was also bad.  So actual danger and the possibility of danger became one and the same thought.

ACT, however, provides a powerful psychological tool to cope with anxiety.   One of the keys to releasing from anxiety, Wilson and Dufrene say, is not engaging it.  When we spot a bear in the distance, it’s best to back away and create distance.  Same with our anxious thoughts.  When we feel ourselves being pulled into the thought, we need to disengage.

How do we do that?  By first understanding that all thinking is divided into two categories: the ruminating mind and the experiencing mind.  Rumination is what happens when the mind wanders.  Its domain is the past and the future.  The experiencing mind is about connection to the present moment.   If this sounds like mindfulness, then you are right.

Once we have this awareness, we can apply the concepts Wilson and Troy present that are based on ACT principles. They recommend that when a thought begins to generate anxiety, we apply this three-step process to release from its grip:

  1. Identify the thought. When we name the anxious thought, we alert ourselves to it and avoid stepping into its snare.

 

  1. Step back from it. The more we fight the thought, the more we get swept away in it. This includes trying to change the anxious thought to a positive thought.  Brain research has proved that the thought will recoil with even more power if we try to push it away from our consciousness. Instead, we release (defuse) from the thought rather than fuse with it.

 

  1. Make contact with the present moment. Change your attention from the future or past to the here and now.  Instead of sitting on the coach allowing your mind to toggle back and forth between the past and future, find something that you value to engage your mind in the present. This keeps you from endlessly reprocessing the past or worrying about the future. “Anxiety is always out of place in the present moment,” according to Wilson and Dufrene.

The key, then, to freedom from anxiety is to remain in the experiencing mind.  Anxiety cannot co-exist with the present moment because anxiety is always what could happen, not what is happening.

When we apply these three simple steps at the onset of an anxious thinking, we can find a freedom from anxiety that is simply more effective than other methods.  With practice, we can come to know a freedom from anxiety that is as refreshing as a good night’s sleep.

“If you can learn to remain connected to what’s going on in your life right now, accepting both the sweet and the sad, holding lightly the stories about what’s possible while turning your actions toward things that matter to you” then you have succeeded, as Wilson and Dufrene say, in avoiding the snare of anxiety.

May you all experience the joy of an anxiety-free life.

If you’d like to be free of  your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com.  I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling.  I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform.

RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach