The Recovery Blog

Re-writing ‘The Legend’ in our minds.

We all have a self-concept that is mostly shaped by our perception of how others think of us. This is the “mirroring” that teaches us in early life how to view ourselves and the world. Over-protective parents can make us fearful of life, while strict, shouting parents can make us feel confused and unsure of their consistency and love. Abusive caregivers can cause us to feel worthless, or to pursue similar relationships in hopes of “getting it right this time,” or because they are familiar.

On the other hand, supportive behaviors that give us a realistic view of ourselves and our place in the world can foster healthy self-images and good self-esteem, affecting our feelings about our own stories — the Legends that we write about ourselves in our own heads.

Three Core Beliefs That Define Good Self Esteem

But what is this “good self-esteem” that everyone talks about? Most experts agree that it is based on three core beliefs that we have about ourselves:

  • That we are competent, able to complete tasks satisfactorily
  • That we belong, feel wanted and needed by others
  • A sense of worth: a feeling of being a worthwhile person that is based on how others treat us, and the things they say to and about us

The Importance of Self Compassion

In addition to the above, we need Self Compassion. We need to understand that even Olympic gold medalists are imperfect most of the time, and that sooner or later someone will come along who can do it better. We need to accept that perfection simply doesn't exist, and that it is ridiculous to expect it of ourselves or for others to expect it of us.

Self compassion is powerful because it isn't judgemental.Self compassion is powerful because it isn't judgemental. Since it doesn't label us as poor performers — inadequate people in whatever ways — it allows us to look at mistakes and recognize ways that we can improve the next time. We can get a realistic look at our mistakes, at the things we have done right, and how to focus our abilities to do better.

The Effects of Negative Thinking on Self Esteem

When we are thinking only about the negative Legend, the “old tapes” based on the messages of others, we can't really bear to look at ourselves honestly because it would mean that we are weak, have shortcomings, and that the Legend is right. We can't admit that there is room for improvement, because it's too painful to admit, even to ourselves, that we did something “wrong”.

No one can be totally skillful, knowing how to do everything right the first time; we all need practice, guidance and experience.If we can learn to think of our actions as “skillful” and “unskillful”, we leave room for improvement. No one can be totally skillful, knowing how to do everything right the first time; we all need practice, guidance and experience. Self-compassion is about realizing that we are human, that there is no such thing as a perfect human, and that we can turn unskillful things into more skilled accomplishments the next time, whether they be at work, at play, or in our relationships.

We don't have to live out the false Legend in our head. We can re-write it, and we can start any time by recognizing and saying “No!” to all those false stories we've been telling ourselves.

Thoughts on Self-Esteem, Self Image, Addiction and Recovery

The Legend In Our Minds

Most of us have heard the expression “He's a legend in his own mind.”  Although we don't usually think of this as being accurate (or nice), the fact is that we are, in a sense, all legends in our own minds.

We all have a self-concept, a collection of mental images.  Our self-concept (Legend) is our answer to the question, “Who am I?”  It tells us what we like, how we're like — or different from — others, where we belong in the world and our community, and what we've been like in the past.

Recovery is an uphill climb. Sometimes our internal view of ourselves sets the stage for how steep that climb might be.

Recovery is an uphill climb. Sometimes our internal view of ourselves.. the “story” or “Legend” within our own minds, sets the stage for how steep that climb might be.

The Personal Legend

This personal Legend is how we usually think about ourselves.  The details can change, but for most of us the underlying story remains the same.  Sometimes our Legend even approaches reality, but since it is our Legend, not necessarily fact, and because it is shaped by the way we think about our past and our present, it sometimes becomes a bit twisted, and at times even just plain wrong.

Our self-concept, or self-image, is mostly shaped by our understanding of the things that have happened in our life: the things we have done and the things that were done to us.  For that reason, it's not uncommon for a person (especially an addict) to end up with one of those twisted Legends.

Twisted Legends : A False Sense of Self

Much of our Legend is shaped by what we believe others think, or thought, about us.  If we were treated badly, especially as children, if we failed to get the love, nurturing and gentle attention that we needed, if we were emotionally or physically abused, or had addicted parents who were unable to fulfill our needs because they were themselves impaired, our self-concept may become twisted and cause us to believe things about ourselves that aren't true.

Our Self Concept shapes our Self Esteem

That's not good because our self-concept shapes our self-esteem (what we think of our Legend).  Unconsciously, we give ourselves a sort of grade.  If we see ourselves as competent people and value ourselves for who we are, instead of who we wish we were, we usually get a pretty high grade.  But most of us addicts look at the Legend we have constructed for ourselves and think that we are inadequate, incompetent, and unlovable.  Most likely we picked up this idea from people who themselves lacked a healthy self-concept, and we have since viewed our lives and our behavior in that light: “I'm not good enough.”  “No one will love me unless I _________.”  “I deserve whatever I get.”  “I'm no good.” “I don't deserve to be treated well.” “I don't deserve to treat myself well, because I'm a piece of junk.”

And a common way to handle that pain is “I can’t stand this, I’ve gotta get high!

Realizing Self Worth as a Step Towards Recovery

Well, guess what.  God doesn't make junk.  Regardless of how much we believe our Legend, if it's telling us that sort of stuff it needs to be re-written.  We'll cover that next.  For now, just remember:  Good self-concept = good Legend.  Bad self-concept = bad Legend = poor self-esteem.  Poor self-esteem makes it impossible to re-write our Legend.  We need to question all those bad beliefs we have about ourselves.  Are they true?  Who says so?  Who told us that to begin with?  Could they have been…wrong?

Spirituality and Recovery: An Insider’s Guide

It's safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is - and from their point of view, they may be right.If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an addict, or your loved one or friend or employee is. You probably have your own ideas of what constitutes addiction. They may be informed by education or ignorance, experience or listening to others. They may be sympathetic or condemning. However, it’s safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is—and from their point of view, they may be right.

But we who have struggled with the monkey on our back know things about addiction that no one else knows. That’s not to say that we’re any smarter about it, it just means that we, too, have our point of view, and from the inside it’s rarely pleasant. We beat ourselves up, we focus on our regret, on resentments, on past and present mistakes, about the things we missed out on, on how we were treated, on how the world is being run, on our future. It would be enough to make us crazy, if we weren’t already. And that’s because, as the title implies, “addiction is the opposite of spirituality.”

Okay, fine. But what is spirituality? Well, the spirituality I mean is the “human spirit,” not related to religion at all, although they compliment each other well in some cases. As far as this addict is concerned, spirituality is those things of the spirit that are missing from all addicts to one degree or another.

For example, there’s tolerance, the willingness to let others do their own thing. Most addicts are control freaks, and want to direct the show. Tolerance, in addition to promoting harmony, allows the other party to learn. Few of us learn from the mistakes of others. We claim to, but in reality we’re bit players in every story but our own, and other folks’ mistakes rarely teach us much. When screw up ourselves, the lesson tends to stick. Tolerant folks mostly ignore things that aren’t their business.

Patience goes along with tolerance. It’s the darndest thing: people insist on doing things their own way, not ours. We aren’t going to change that unless we’re both wearing uniforms, and maybe not even then. Some drivers are slow getting away from red lights. (Of course, we never are.) Some speakers go on and on in meetings about things that bore us. Tough. Do we really think they’re on the edge of their chairs waiting for drops of gold to drip from our lips? The package will get here when FedEx delivers it. Our significant other will stop talking eventually, then it’s our turn to yammer. Patience helps us get through boring, frustrating, “painful” moments without getting riled up or angry or annoyed.

Then there’s forgiveness. There’s a saying  “resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” Rarely do others worry about our resentments; we’re the ones who do the worrying. We eat ourselves up over things that others did “to” us, not realizing that we are the ones making ourselves miserable. Forgiveness is being willing to let go. If we’re still stewing about something someone did, or didn’t do, who are we hurting? Chances are good that the other party has forgotten all about it. How dare they? Well, who cares? That’s what forgiveness is about. We don’t have to let the guy near our entertainment equipment again, but letting go of the stuff he stole from us last year helps us, not him. If we can’t do that, we need to talk to a shrink, because the TV is gone, gone, gone.

the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality.Compassion and love, the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality. People have to let us learn to love them, but we can be compassionate towards anyone we meet. Give the bum a dollar. Don’t decide you know what he’s going to do with it, just imagine how it feels out there in the rain with that sign. Be patient with the old lady digging for change in the grocery line, and consider how hard it must be to live on a limited income—and to be old and know it isn’t going to change.

Responsibility strengthens relationships. It’s doing our part, whether it’s showing up to chair that 7:00 A.M. meeting, or staying after work a bit to make sure our job is done properly. It’s being dependable, and taking our share of whatever load, doing what we can for everyone’s benefit.

All of these things lead to harmony, the feeling that everything is sailing along as it should. Not that everything’s perfect—that’s not harmony, it’s delusion—but just the feeling that things are going okay. No one’s rubbing on anyone’s nerves too badly; we’re in a good space, so that getting cut off in traffic is just another unskillful driver, not a personal affront…stuff like that.

And on rare occasions, we simply feel wonderful, for no particular reason. That’s joy. It doesn’t happen very often, but if we pay attention to the other things we’ve discussed, it happens more frequently than we might think.

We don't have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn't us.If we use the opposites of all the things I’ve discussed, we can pretty much put together a picture of an active addict, or an addict who isn’t in recovery. When we say recovery programs are spiritual, we’re talking about changing from our previous ways of looking at life to the more skillful ways we’re talking about here. We become spiritual by practicing spirituality, not by just going to church. We say “practice,” because these things are skills that can be learned, and if we want to be happy and stay sober, we need to learn them. We don’t have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn’t us.

12 Steps: Surrender

Reservations, Powerlessness and Surrender

Reservations are little ideas, beliefs and loopholes that we leave for ourselves. We reserve the right to hang on to them, not realizing that we are really protecting some aspect of our addiction. Most of us started recovery with some reservations. They may have gone like this:

Opiates are my problem; a little drink now and then won’t hurt me. Alcohol just about ruined my life. I don’t ever want to drink again. Of course, I’ll still smoke a little weed when I’m feeling stressed. I don’t relate well to other women, so I’ll need a male sponsor. If my mother died, I don’t see how I could handle it without picking up. They say we’re as sick as our secrets, but they can’t mean everything. That one thing will never pass my lips.

We may be sincere about wanting recovery, and may be working diligently toward it by going to meetings, doing step work, and almost giving ourselves fully over to the program that’s recommended. But as long as we hold reservations, consciously or unconsciously, we are fooling ourselves.

One of the worst effects of reservations is that this kind of thinking keeps us from bonding with other recovering people. Recovery works because we are a fellowship with a common purpose: to stay clean and sober, and learn how to live that way. We do this by accepting that we can’t do it on our own, and that we need the guidance and support of others who have been successful at what we want to do. Reservations  prevent us from developing the close, trusting relationships that make those things possible.

Fighting is so much a part of addiction — fighting for the next fix, the next drink, the time to use, protecting our ability to keep getting high — that we forget how to stop fighting. When we are able to relax and stop struggling, we begin to gain the benefits of our recovery program, along with a huge sense of relief.

Move Away from the Addiction. Don't Stay and Fight

The problem is that we’re still trying to control our addiction, when what we really need is to let go of that control, let go of our reservations, and accept the reality that our addiction is far more powerful than we are — that we must move away from our addiction, not stay and fight.

Once we are able to surrender, the feeling of relief is amazing! We are no longer forced to twist our thinking around so that we can try to have things two ways at once. We no longer push, push, push back against our program. We no longer have to deal with the stress of always trying to be right, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. We are, at last, able to relax and recover.

We must surrender before we can win!

On Anonymity in Recovery

Submitted by Bill: I was at a 12 step meeting a few days ago where one of the participants’ remarks showed that he had no real idea of what anonymity meant, or the reasons for it.  So I thought I’d weigh in with a few ideas on the subject.

I tell people that I have no anonymity; that I drank and drugged publicly and I consider it a privilege to recover publicly.  Despite that, however, I do not advertise my membership in a particular 12-step program.  I often mention attending meetings, in my writing and elsewhere, but not which meetings.  I speak knowledgeably about AA, NA, and other fellowships, but I don't talk about membership.  I have what I believe are good reasons for that, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you.

As I see it, there are two basic reasons for anonymity in a program of recovery: protection of the recovering alcoholic/addict, and protection of the program itself.

First of all, if we wanted to tell people we were members of AA, that would be our business, and ours only, provided that we did it on a personal level.  We might do so when speaking to people one-on-one, or in small groups under conditions where privacy can be presumed, because friendships are enhanced by such honesty under most conditions.  Then, too, that revelation might raise opportunities to bring the 12th Step into play.

Another area where we need to be careful is in speaking to outside groups.  We need to be sure that we're not thought to be speaking for a particular fellowship.  If we set ourselves up as some sort of recovering guru, how is the program going to look if, six months from now, one of those folks sees us passed out behind a dumpster, or in the ER being treated for an overdose?

Could happen.  If you don't think it could, speak to your sponsor.

There are excellent reasons, however, for us not breaking  your anonymity.  You might be hindered in your employment if word got out.  You might be an airline pilot with 20 years clean and sober who had neglected to tell the FAA about her problem — required by law — and lose your livelihood due to our big mouth.  It could simply be an issue that you find embarrassing.  It's no one else's business.  Our business is to keep what we have learned about others in the rooms to ourselves, period.  (Whether or not the airline pilot is behaving ethically in that situation is not the issue; it's our behavior we're discussing — and that is not a hypothetical example.)

The last, and perhaps best, reason that I can think of for sticking with the tradition of anonymity is humility.  It makes me just “another bozo on the bus.”  If I'm going try to be a guru, it's going to have to be on my own merits, not those of the program.  That's good for me and for the program, because my opinions often vary somewhat from more traditional positions.   When they do, I need to take the credit — and the criticism.

Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts about the issue, and I'm only speaking for myself.  Your mileage may vary.

Why Can’t Recovering Addicts Use In Moderation?

A client asks: If we can change our thinking in order to abstain from using alcohol and other drugs, then why can’t we change our thinking to be able to use in moderation?

Why can't addicts use in moderation?  Think about it: why couldn’t we simply use “in moderation” without all the hassle of detox, treatment, and a program of recovery? If we couldn’t do it then, why should we be able to do it now? Those are the real questions!

The key is “change our thinking.” We don’t think our way out of addiction. We make a decision to get clean and sober, and to follow the suggestions of our program of choice, in order to facilitate abstinence. The thinking and process of our programs of recovery relieve some of the emotional pressures we created with our addiction and equip us to live sober lives, but they do not “cure” the addiction.

Abstinence and the subsequent repairs that our bodies are able to effect in our brains allow our addiction(s) to enter remission. Our brains slowly deactivate the extra receptor sites that clamored for more drugs and caused our compulsion to use, and at the same time the production of chemicals normally found in the brain has to ramp back up from being suppressed by the presence of the drugs. Not until this process is complete — and it can take months — do we reach the point of feeling relatively normal, although we begin to feel better long before the job is done.

Feeling better is part of the problem, too. Because the repairs to our brains depend on abstinence, as long as there are any of a wide variety of abusable drugs in our systems, the repairs can’t take place. And because they also take time, and that means that the desire to use won’t go away entirely for quite awhile; it will come and go. We can easily decide that we’ve been clean for a while so we ought to be able to “handle it.” But if we give in and use, even a little, the repairs to our brain will slow down, prolonging the physical recovery process. It is also quite likely that the combination of reuniting with our old obsession, combined with the indisputable fact that people on drugs do stupid things, will cause us to decide more would be better. Continued use will reverse the recovery process and kick us back into full-blown addiction.

Recovery is not a matter of willpower. If it were, we would have simply ignored the compulsion and stopped. The compulsion comes from a part of the brain that isn’t affected by conscious thought. We can’t think our way into sobriety; we need abstinence too. Here at Sunrise Detox, we see a lot of folks who think that they can use in moderation.  Again, and again, and again….

Why Does Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope Work?

In order for me to recover, I have to understand at least some of the ideas flitting around in my head. Telling someone else is the best way to get the mess organized. Saying what’s happening to me in a way that others can understand — putting it into words and sentences — removes the secrecy, the mystery, and clarifies things in my own mind. My thoughts have to stop running around in circles (at least a little bit), and that allows me to see through my own mental static. But there is another powerful reason for sharing our experience, strength and hope.

No one gets into recovery by accident.  We used alcohol, other drugs or behaviors — often all three — because they made us feel better about ourselves.  After they stopped working we kept using them because we were physically and emotionally addicted, and because we didn’t know what else to do.  Eventually something happened that made us willing to take a terrified leap into the unknown, because we could no longer tolerate what was going on in our lives. I didn’t get up one morning and say to myself, “Hey, it’s nice out; I think I'll go to detox!” Neither did you.

But what got us into recovery doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we have to repair the damaged thinking that made acting out our addictions seem preferable to facing reality. As many have said, “I’m not responsible for being an addict, but I am responsible for my recovery!” Back then, we didn’t know any better; now we do.

And that’s where the experience, strength and hope of others matters. In order for us to have faith in the program, we have to see that it works. Listening to other addicts tell how it was with them, what worked for them, the results and their hopes for the future — or maybe just how scared they are — tells us that we're not alone, and gives us hope. I may not believe that I can do it, but if I see and hear that there are people who felt the way I felt, who had many of the same or similar experiences, who suffered the same shame, guilt and despair, and that they've managed to get beyond all that, turned their thinking around and begun to live, then just maybe I will begin to believe that I can do it too.

Further into our recovery, we may listen with a changed ear and be able to hear how we can apply the experiences of others in our own lives. In the beginning, though, we simply need the reassurance that we are not the only ones who behaved the way we did, that others have recovered successfully and are willing to share what they’ve learned, and that we are not alone.

That's why we're told to identify with the lives and feelings of others, and not compare. The details don't matter. The feelings, fears, and humanity that we share with our fellow addicts are the keys.

Experience. Strength. But, most of all, HOPE!