mindingmybiz

This blog is my shared process in working towards integrating self-awareness with all other aspects of life, while on my way to becoming more authentic and whole.

Archive for the category “Recovery”

On Morality & Love

There’s a story of a man named Simeon in the Bible (see Luke 2:25-35) who was described as being “righteous and devout”.

What does it mean exactly, to be righteous and devout? I’ve got my personal stereotypes and caricatures that portray someone who is “holy”, meaning a bit emotionally cold or stoic, conditionally approachable, not very down-to-earth or relatable, probably intelligent, sophisticated, and rather arrogant. That’s the best description of the image I find that initially emerges into conscious awareness.

Well according to how Jesus answered a teacher of the law, the highest form of morality can be boiled down to love (see Mark 12:29-31). Sequentially and specifically; loving God with your whole inner and integrated being. And then Jesus adds an addendum that seems inseparable to the first command (and that’s much easier to measure) – ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

So, I think it’s safe to presume that being righteous and devout means loving an external, metaphysical, ethereal, abstract Being with YOUR whole internal, metaphysical, ethereal, abstract being – measured by an empirically validated and evidenced way – how you treat “your neighbor” as well as yourself.

It’s so simple that we don’t buy it and we often find ourselves adding on a multitude of “morality measurements” with countless other morality clauses than what Jesus added. Just love your neighbors as yourself, that’s hard enough. And your “neighbor” is something else to contemplate in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, which I won’t go into in this post.

So, the question I’m pondering here is this: How is mental health and development, factored into this command – to love so integratively in a way that it manifests with congruency with other people?

By all appearances and experiences of mine thus far I’m quite sure of this: being loving is not an inborn human trait. Being loving isn’t innately and independently present in human infants. I’ve given birth to and am raising 3 human souls, and I’ve watched them closely.

Now to be clear— being IN NEED of love, at birth and onward is inborn and innate. And when you form a secure attachment and nurture and protect your babies they coo, smile, and affectionately bond with you right back. It’s a beautiful circle of love. But it didn’t begin with the baby first loving me. It started with a baby who needed to be loved and cared for, FIRST.

The nature of the intimate dyad of human caregiving determines (although not exclusively) a great deal in how “loving” a person will eventually be, influenced by how much they themselves felt loved, or more specifically – securely attached.

“Loving” is not to be confused with merely how “nice”, “polite”, socially acceptable, or virtuous they appear in public. This is about way more than mere etiquette. Rather, it’s far more about how much they’ll be able to enjoy consensual and reciprocal vulnerability, authenticity, and work through the inevitable interpersonal conflicts with a selected few. In other words: healthy interpersonal relationships.

In an ideal world, humans would produce loving human beings – generation after generation. It doesn’t take much to see that we don’t live in an ideal world. Far from it.

So if children grow without enough of this kind of emotional secure attachment created within their earliest and formative interpersonal relationships, how can we expect them to give what they don’t have? For so many who didn’t, are we screwed? No. There is a path of healing and inner recovery. God is sensitively attuned to the broken-hearted, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Just meditate on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.

I believe humans are biologically wired to be moral creatures. When we are immoral, we suffer and often find ways to escape or find relief from suffering. To be clear again: We are innately moral creatures which means our biology is wired for thriving when we’re morally strong. And I hope I’ve made it clear enough by now that when I say “moral” I mean we’re biologically created to be loved and loving – this is how we’re morally biologically wired – for love, aka to need to give and receive secure emotional attachments. Possessing a familiarity of attachment styles in both childhood and adulthood is helpful to understanding where I’m coming from. Hopefully if you’re making a living within the mental health field or personal development arena, you’re more than a little familiar with the scientific literature on attachment styles and neurobiology. Hopefully.

I digress. Getting back to morality and love…

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

So, to those who perceive themselves as morally righteous, and therefore loving as described above – What is your detailed and coherent, autobiographical narrative that’s made sense of your adulthood in light of your childhood?

In all transparency, this is somewhat of a trick question. I’ve heard people saying they grew up with love and support from their parents, yet these same people are often times some of the quickest to criticize or judge others and are also some of the most emotionally cold or shallow people I know. To be sure, they are often very “nice”, “polite”, socially acceptable, and fluent in practicing social graces/etiquette. Yet, there seems to be a gaping hole, a sense of wtf-ness that’s hard to explain and even harder to convince them of.

Now of course, I could very well be totally off myself here. But the disjointed feeling I get in this wtf-ness experience is because I hear they consider themselves as lucky for growing up the way they did, and therefore they don’t “morally” struggle much. Yet at the same time, I observe that they find it very difficult, unvaluable, and unnecessary (if they even notice) to be emotionally vulnerable, authentic, and show capacity to work through interpersonal conflicts with their loved ones. It’s a head-scratcher for me.

This is the best I can come up with to try and explain the dissonance between morality and love, profoundly the kind of love from God, that pours out interpersonally. Unless you experience it yourself with God, it’s hard to explain to others.

There was a woman who was described in Luke 7:37 as “a woman in that town who lived a sinful life”. She wept on Jesus’ feet (portrays her as probably crawling on the floor in approaching and being next to Jesus) kissed his feet, then wiped his feet with her hair, and poured perfume from an alabaster jar.

To be loved and to love.

I think she gets it.

Intuitively.

Without explanation.

Her story might help shed light on this gaping hole for those who need an explanation. Jesus saw that Simon the Pharisee didn’t get it either.

“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Luke 7:44-47

How well you understand the love of God for yourself has much to do with how much you’ve experienced forgiveness from God. And if in your own self-estimation, you don’t have much to be forgiven for, you’ll find it hard to love others who do.

It boils down to compassion. If you don’t have much need for compassion from others, you won’t feel much compassion for others either.

If you’ve never felt much need for love from others, you likely won’t feel much love for others.

An Open Letter to the 12-Step Literature Approvers…

I’m trying to work through the 12-Steps and keep bumping up against what appears as dogma with the Disease Model of addiction. I’m reading Al-Anon approved literature as well as material written by other addiction experts like Gabor Mate and Jamie Marich and am feeling more and more disjointed.

I’ve been personally impacted by a loved one’s addiction and have entered into recovery myself. In 12-Step recovery I’ve been urged to study alcoholism and the disease of addiction. I’ve been studying this subject for years as I’ve been in relationships with people who’ve either been addicted themselves or been impacted by a loved one’s addiction, or both actually. I’m finding myself feeling confused and disjointed, unless I strictly read Al-Anon approved literature! I’m trying to integrate 12-Step approved literature with non-approved addiction literature and am forming my own understanding with as honest and open-minded of an attitude that the Al-Anon program promotes, probably mixed with some of my own defects of character, in process too.

This is my take on addiction thus far coming from someone who finds this subject matter so relevant to her personal life. It’s become an area of passion and vested interest due to my family relationships being touched by addiction. Although I’m not an addiction professional, I represent a voice that’s been deeply impacted by this subject. I’m forming my understanding from a conglomerate of reading from addiction professionals inside and outside of the 12-Step model. It also comes from my lived-experience of going through a loved-one’s relapse into hell. So for whatever it’s worth, I offer my personal reflections from this vantage point. I’m still making sense of my own lived-experience as well as studying the topic of addiction from a variety of sources as I work through the 12-Steps. In other words it’s still slowly brewing, like me. If this benefits someone who has or is going through their own experience of this, I’m grateful.

So without further ado this is my evolving summation on a very complex subject that touches millions of lives every day.

To the Unnamed 12-Step Literature Approvers


I’ve read addiction and codependency literature, outside of your approval. And this is what I’d like to share as a newcomer member of Al-Anon, who also feels deep gratitude for the service of Al-Anon Fellowship. What have we learned about addiction since the 1930’s when A.A. first formed? That it’s complex. And a coherent narrative of addiction in layman’s terms could be that it’s not merely a chronic disease. Consider this narrative that’s backed by addiction and trauma research, and please integrate your approval for literature that offers more. Perhaps something along the lines of this…

Addiction manifests in its burgeoning stage as an unconscious adaptive survival trait in the presence of feeling overwhelming distress, coupled with the absence of a close and secure relationship to an attachment figure like Mom, Dad, or another caregiver.

Notice the Theme, it’s a Duet: Presence + Absence

A presence of Distressing Emotional Experience (based in past and/or present) PLUS an Absence of a Safe enough or secure relationship.

These overwhelming feelings may not even register on the level of conscious awareness until it over-reaches maximum capacity. Until then, the response to overwhelm is constructing and maintaining a thick wall of emotional armor. Any unprocessed feelings from the past accumulate while current feelings which bare any striking resemblance to the past also gets heaped onto the pile. This occurs all while the Absence part of the equation remains – Absence of a Safe Enough or Secure Relationship.

The Absence is a void. A hole consisting of profound disconnection and isolation. A substance or “filler” which acts as a substitute, is reached for in an attempt to fill that void. The momentary relief from pain, and fleeting sensations of pleasure string you along while making increasing demands that you sacrifice more to get more. The constant pursuit and chasing the carrot-on-a-stick can never deliver what you’re pursuing. Freedom from suffering. As this phenomenon takes root like a seemingly innocuous weed, the human’s soul becomes a host for a parasitic-type entity of whatever addictive filler hooks you.

12-Step Fellowships offer a beautiful solution to the Absence part of the equation. The absence of intimate connection which is a fundamental, hardwired, basic human need – creates a void. Filling that void with non-human substances is often a way to cope and while enabling dependency on emotional vulnerability armor. The core issue is an aversion to emotional vulnerability within relationships. When a substance or sabotaging behavior mitigates this aversion despite negative consequences and disturbances in other areas of life, you’ve got the active mechanism of addiction at hand.

So why do relapses occur even after dramatic changes in lifestyle going from using or drinking, to being clean and sober, occur? Well, the other part of the equation needs to be looked at, the presence of distressing experiences especially pertaining to the past which haven’t been processed and integrated.

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

The etiology of addiction is hotly debated among experts, addicts themselves, and those who love them. What came first, the chicken or the egg? The addiction or the unresolved trauma? They both feed off one another, so does it really matter? Not in order to reduce harm and initially get clean and sober. But to stay clean and sober, heal from the aftermath, and truly make living amends – I believe this is relevant.

It’s my developing opinion based from what I’ve learned from various schools of thought and my own experience, that unresolved childhood trauma provides fertile soil for addiction to take root. Along with family history, social conditioning, lifestyle habits, and genetic factors. I don’t hold to the belief that addiction is merely a disease. This belief is antiquated now that so much multidisciplinary scientific inquiry and findings regarding addiction and the plight of human suffering, have been shared.

The strictly disease-based model that posits addiction and/or alcoholism as a disease, is sometimes a helpful simplification for such a complex phenomenon like addiction. Yet further down the road of recovery after encountering relapse, it’s a harmful over-simplification which can create a false sense of security. I believe it inadvertently creates barriers to healing the roots of addiction when these roots prove to be deeper than what first appeared. The disease-model of addiction can inadvertently bypass critical trauma recovery, which can weaken relapse prevention.

Growing up in family subcultures which are reinforced outside the home by the broader culture, enabling self-ignorance, self-neglect, and/or self-abuse in response to distress – creates ripe conditions for addiction. And relapse. An innocent ignorance or a blatant indifference towards healing trauma in response to addiction recovery, furtively enables the practice of emotional self-neglect which often leads to physical self-abuse/harm through drug/alcohol abuse. When this is tacitly considered “normal” within recovery programs, you’ll find that necessary, deeper recovery is stilted, versus the addiction.

I realize my take on addiction and its development doesn’t exclude many people, including myself. Addiction development is quite inclusive and many will be counted as vulnerable towards investing in its empty promises when you have a permissive culture of enabling trauma denial.

Addiction is a very human struggle. It accounts for the struggle of being human in dehumanizing cultures and environments. In my opinion, relegating it as strictly a “disease” seems ignorant. Much has been learned about the nature of addiction and I wish recovery programs would honor this progress. It would help those suffering from addiction and those who love them.

Spiritual principles make room for progression, because you keep an honest and open minded attitude. How can the spirit of 12-Step fellowship principles include the latest findings of addiction without losing it’s unity?Is there room for a different ideology beyond addiction and alcoholism as a disease? Well, even if dogma doesn’t make room for it, my own understanding of the 12-Step spiritual principles, do.

This goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway – these ideas are a representation of my own evolving perspective. Take what serves you, leave the rest.

And with that, I pass. Thank you for reading.

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