Looking at a 1/11/2010 through the Eyes of Gratitude and Lessons about Abuse Cycle and Having Compassion for Abuser
A Day of Gratitude that was Once Viewed as Tragic
11:11 in numerology (a New Age spiritual practice that is tied in with astrology that many of my fellow spiritual students of New Thought-Science of Mind and I believe in) means," 'master number' which signifies intuition, insight, and enlightenment. When paired together, 11 11 is a clear message from the Universe to become conscious and aware. Many people suggest that seeing 11 11 signifies that your spirit guides are attempting to contact you."
10 years ago today on 1/11/2010, I had just returned to 4th grade at Holly Glen Elementary School in Williamstown, New Jersey after a 2 week Christmas break and a week off with a severe ear infection. As usual, my mom om picked me up from school that day, and sure enough just 2 days before he went to county jail for 7 months, my dad was drunk. My mom had to go to work, but my aunt, who we were never close with, simply refused to watch me and suggested for my mom to bring me to their cousin's house. I did not even know this cousin other than by name and seeing her at family events, so I decided to be open-minded and try it. When she answered the door, she was superficially charming. Shortly after, her then 20 year-old son came down (the infamous cousin whom I developed a major codependency problem to). He made me nervous, but he seemed quiet and innocent. Later, her other son (then 21 years-old) came home, furious at his girlfriend who is now the mother of his 2 children. I thought that it was okay because it was only for one evening after all. One night became almost 3 more months of weekly abuse and almost a 9-year codependency problem. You see, this cousin had alcohol use disorder and possibly anti-social personality disorder and her two children had opioid use disorders. I am in awe that today marks 10 years. I used to see today as a day of despair, but now through the eyes of gratitude, acceptance, and recovery, I see it as the beginning of a spiritual journey. Just like the phoenix, I rose from the ashes. I found my passion and purpose through one of the worst experiences of my life. As I read this week, our hearts need to break open in order to allow the light to shine through.
The Abuse Cycle: It Screws You Up
This year on January 11th, my abuse awareness theme is the effects of abuse/having compassion for your abuser. In recent months, my third counselor at the Starting Point Inc. in Westmont , New Jersey (completed a program with my first and my second moved on to her 2nd internship- both were wonderful) pointed out how I have been affected by the abuse cycle. I have learned about the abuse cycle in my 12th grade health class, but I did not think applied to me because the abuse was mostly emotional and mental. The abuse cycles goes something like this: It starts out with the abusive incident (for me, it was getting extremely yelled at, being made fun of berated, physically pushed around, manipulated into doing things to help them w/ their drug use, forced to watch drug use/sexual activity, etc.), followed by apologies (for me, it was my cousins' mom making my favorite food, buying my favorite snacks, letting me watch my favorite TV shows, etc.), followed by rising incident (cousins coming in high and getting angry at me for not doing what they told me to), and finally the whole cycle starts all over.
Having to be put through this cycle, especially as a child, literally messes up your brain, confusing it, which makes it harder to recognize what is exactly going on and to get out. It tricks us into thinking this person is not doing anything wrong or it will get better and go back to the way it was in the beginning. Abusers often "gaslight" (manipulate them into questioning their psychological well-being) their victims into thinking that the victims themselves are "the problem" or more of "the problem" than they actually are. When I mustered up the courage to call my cousins' mom a month ago to try to make amends, I found myself apologizing a lot more than I should have. But I later wrote her a letter nicely telling her how it is using plenty of "I" statements. Currently, in therapy, I am working on realizing that I am not responsible for what happened and that my reactions towards what happen were normal. Logically I know, but my heart and soul is struggling with it.
Having Compassion for Someone Who You Think Deserves it the Least
Now to the more interesting stuff, having compassion toward your abuser. Going through my own mental health struggles and addiction of codependency and studying psychology in high school and college has really taught me a lot about humanity. For a long time, my heart was closed. I had NO compassion for anyone, let alone my abusers. However, when my Abnormal Psychology professor said, "There is nothing I am incapable of given the right circumstances," it really mad me realize that we are all born as innocents, are affected by our experiences in life, and reflect how those experiences affected us in our behavior. In my 11th grade English class, my favorite story we read all year was A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The one quote towards the end (see above quote) taught me that those who need the compassion the most are those who you would think deserve it the least.
Today, I read something in Strengthening my Recovery, that said, "No one is to blame in an alcoholic/dysfunctional family. Dysfunction is inherited." I know that my cousins and their mother have been through their own horrific traumas (e.g. sexual abuse) and thus have their own addictions, behavior problems, and possible co-occuring mental health disorders as a result. Essentially, they are lashing out in their own behavior. For example, my one cousin, who is sober and now getting married but does not work a program and carries a lot of anger (especially toward me) and is very manipulative (still toward me as I saw last week), makes himself look like a tough guy on the outside by covering himself in scary tattoos and dressing like a gangster in order to avoid looking within. It does NOT excuse what they did to me or others and does not make it acceptable for them to be in my life while they are still acting out, but it explains why they were not capable of giving what they were supposed to such as, love, protection, nurturing, emotional validation, communication, etc. They are still human, and it could have easily been me if I did not seek the proper help. Life is complicated, and there are a variety of factors why people do what they do. We need to set boundaries, but at the end of the day, we need to recognize the humanity and the oneness of all life. I still love my cousins, but hate what they did and hate the disease even more.
I Have the Power Now
Please feel free to "Share" on your social media. if one person is motivated to get help it will all be worth it. It is a Universal Truth that a Power Greater than Ourselves (regardless if you call it the Universe-the name that resonates with my soul, G.o.d., Higher Power, Divine, Infinite, Jesus, Allah, Great Spirit, etc. or believe it is an energy like I do, a father or mother sitting somewhere, multiple people with different powers, or something completely different) uses all things for good. My WHYY interview on codependency is airing in February (will post the link and provide dates/times later). I am in the process of writing another book on personal spirituality, and I will be interning or Camden County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse to learn how to educate/prevent substance use and addictive disorders in the community and the innerworkings of the non-profit sector this upcoming summer. I was listening to the talk I gave at Jal-Con 2017 in front of 200 people on CD yesterday for the first time, and while it was a great talk that reminded me of some great tools, my recovery at the time was solely intellectual. I have to thank my counselors Vince, Allison, and Sarah at the Starting Point; Al-Anon homegroup on Tuesday Nights in Washington Township; my spiritual, so not religious mentor Rev. Margaret who shows a spirit of love, open-mindedness, and humility that I never thought I would get from someone with the title of "minister" and the other members of Joyful Gathering Spiritual Center (located inside of the Starting Point in Westmont), Mom, Dad, spirit guide Grandmom Rosie, pets, and even those who gave me a hard time on the journey because they all taught me something. I now practice what I preach (not perfectly at all) and can live instead of merely exist. Now I am going to bed because I am hitting the shore later today with my friend I met at my spiritual center. I am the 20 year-old NOW and I am recovering and regretless.
A Time of Reflection
Happy New Year's Eve, Everyone! It is hard to believe that 2019 has almost come and gone, but it is even crazier to believe that there are merely hours left in the 2010's decade. Looking back, I would describe the 2010's as being The Decade of Lost and Found. I believe decades are universal shifts in everyone's lives. In the beginning of 2010, my life was changed forever by my dad being incarcerated for 7 months, which resulted in me getting caught in the wrath of my cousins' drug addictions. I literally have never been the same after that. I had many struggles as a result of that, particularly a 9-year codependency problem to my cousins. Having a codependency problem and adult children of alcoholic issues on top of the normal struggles of a middle schooler and high schooler made life very difficult. I felt suicidal many times. Unfortunately, but fortunately, I hit rock bottom the summer after high school when my one cousin was released from 6.5 years in prison and failed to follow my rigid idea of recovery and reuniting with me. I finally found counselors who could help me, and after that, I slowly started putting my life back together by putting iodine on the wounds, going to self-help meetings fervently, starting college and getting on the President's List, and even found a faith that works for me called New Thought-Science of Mind. It took me almost a decade to get my shit together, but as a Zen proverb says, "When the student is ready, the teacher shows up." I still feel like I am just putting my life back together because I have a long way to go. I no longer have any resentment towards my cousin. I sent him a 20 dollars in the mail for an engagement present with a letter explaining how I feel about everything. I am happy that he is putting his life back together, even if I am not apart of his life and his life does not conform to the path I once selfishly laid out for him. I am 99% sure that I will not be attending the engagement festivities or the wedding, but I will send a generous gift when the time comes.
I am already affirming that the 2020's will be a better decade. In the 2020's, I am going to continue doing well in college, graduate college, earn my master's degree, get a job, buy a house, continue on my spiritual journey of recovery and as a student of New Thought-Science of Mind, become a Science of Mind practicioner and later a minister, and possibly publish a book for real. I might even meet my soul mate (slim chances because I do not know if I ever want to be with anyone, but you never know.) Th 2020's will be full of peace and prosperity.
Ringing in the New Decade Right
Happy Holidays (Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza, etc.)!
On this Christmas Night, I received the news that my cousin who I had a codependency problem to is getting married to his girlfriend of about a year and a half, whom he started a relationship with during the final months of his incarceration . While I feel slightly awkward, needless to say, I am actually happy for him. This morning, I said in my affirmative prayer that his path is being Divinely Guided where it is meant to go and that he and his girlfriend are going to have a beautiful holiday. Sure enough, it is and was. It is the Universe's will, not mine. I have no desire to control or fix the situation. I only hope and pray that it works out for them. That is the beauty of codependency recovery: I can be happy and serene regardless if someone I love is making a choice that I agree with or not. In my reading today by Melody Beattie, it said "Faith does not always give us the miracles that we want, but it always gives us the miracles that we need."
That leads me to the subject of today's blog: came to believe in and conscious contact with our Higher Power as we Understand Our Higher Power. This topic came to me from a video I ran across on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/campanellasmotivation/videos/1400658840112124/.
Step 2: "Came to Believe that a Power Greater than Ourselves Could Restore Us to Sanity"
Whenever Step 2 comes up in my homegroup, we always end up talking about our experiences with the religions we were raised with (including peoples oh so scary Catholic School experiences back in the day lol). Many of us were first introduced to God as a condemning or punishing God; that is NOT the God/Higher Power of recovery. Rather, the God/Higher Power is unconditionally loving and personal to each individual. The 12 Steps, recovery, and this blog ARE NOT about religion. They are only intended to provide SUGGESTED tools for recovery that are applicable to everyone. The key words in Step 11 are "AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM" (I prefer replacing "Him" with "God" or "Higher Power" to make it sound more inclusive but the 12 Steps were written back in 1935). Your Higher Power as You Understood Your Higher Power can be the God of your religion (if you have one) or merely the Higher Power of Your Understanding such as the Universe (mine), nature, saints, loved ones who have passed, the recovery program itself, the book of your recovery program (my counselor actually knew someone who asked The Big Book for help and thanked it at the end of the day), gemstones, etc. There are many paths to one destination. It is all the same Higher Power, but there are many different concepts and paths. Remember that 12-Step programs are spiritual programs , not religious programs, and recovery is a spiritual journey, not a religious journey (even though religion may help some on their journey). "Spiritual" means to have an awakening to your personal spirit/soul/self. Different things speak to different souls.
The reason a "Power Greater than Ourselves" is part of the 12-Step recovery process is it takes a weight off us, especially us codependents who want to control everything. Coming to believe in a Power Greater than Yourself is basically saying, "I can't; someone/something else can." In recovery, I realized that there is power in powerlessness and letting go hurts a lot less than holding on. It is perfectly fine if you do not believe in a supernatural Higher Power upon entering recover. I did not believe in a supernatural Higher Power when I first entered Al-Ateen and Al-Anon, but I found it in Al-Anon. Trust the process; it works. It is also okay for your Higher Power to change over time.
Step 11: "Sought through Prayer and Meditation to Improve Our Conscious Contact with God as We Understood Him, Praying Only for Knowledge of His Will for Us and the Power to Carry that Out"
I never realized that the other key words in Step 11 were "Conscious Contact." In the video I watched, the guy was talking about how recovery teaches us to have "conscious contact" with our Higher Power. Many people pray to a Higher Power in times of trouble and/or go through the motions of their religion, but in recovery, we learn how to have connection to our Higher Power that is far more greater than that. Growing up, I was always taught to believe in the Catholic and later Evangelical Christian concept of God. I was not raised super religious by any means, but I did grow up praying with my mom and going to church every week. As I got older, I realized the Christian concept of God, Christianity, and traditional church every week was not for me. For several years, I did not believe in any supernatural Higher Power because I no longer believed in Christianity, which I thought was the only path to the Higher Power. When I got into recovery, I came to believe in the Universe. Then, several months later, I started attending non-denominational services at the New Thought-Science of Mind spiritual center inside my counseling center about every other week. I now still call my Higher Power "The Universe" and believe and practice the suggested, not mandated practices of New Thought-Science of Mind such as affirmative/scientific prayer, gemstones, Law of Attraction, etc. Today, I consider my faith stronger than it ever was and my contact with my Higher Power as intimate as it ever was. Note: I am only sharing my experiencing to demonstrate how coming to believe and conscious contact works, not pushing my beliefs on anyone. Take what you like and leave the rest. Some spiritual practices that help people maintain conscious contact with their Higher Power include, but are certainly not limited to, prayer, meditation, attending a church/spiritual center/synagogue/temple/mosque/self-help meeting/other religious or spiritual institution, reading an inspirational book, listening to the music of their faith, and spending time in nature. When you have a Higher Power of Your Understanding, it is easier to make and maintain conscious contact. Many of us become addicted to fill a void (lack of sense of self). Having conscious contact with a Higher Power can fill that void (finding yourself). Remember, recovery is not just about abstaining from using; it is about creating a whole new life of yourself. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "When the God of theology and rhetoric is no longer believed in; the God that is the fire of hearts will appear."
Sickness as a Blessing in Disguise
I have been sick with the flu for the entire past week, which is not typical of me because I hardly get sick and never get the flu. Thankfully, I have a job where I can work on my own schedule and my semester ended on Tuesday (had to go in with the flu to take my last final-not fun), so I was able to rest up without any worries. If you saw my last blog post, you know that the week prior was pretty stressful on the home front, which I firmly believe attributed to me contracting the flu. Even though being sick absolutely sucked and I much would have rather been working and making money instead of lying on my couch in pain, the time of rest and solitude really taught me a lot. I believe my Higher Power gave me the flu as a blessing to fortify my recovery because it taught me a major lesson about self-care and helped me reflect on what I really want with my recovery going forward.
How to Care for the Mind, Body, and Spirit
The mind, body, and spirit are all interconnected. The mind is the spirit's way of connecting with the world around us (consciousness), the body is the house or the casing for our spirits to live in during its journey in the world, and the spirit is the essence of who we all are. In order to be our Highest Selves, they must all be cared for. I will admit the week prior, I was not doing a good job at caring for all of them. I was burdened with stress and anxiety over a situation I did not have any control over. I was looking at the past through distorted eyes, beating myself up a lot more than necessary, My mind was obviously out of wack; my body suffered as result by my immune system not being able to work at its best; and my spirit was not aligned where it needed to be. In recovery, the mind, body and spirit all need to be cared for in order to ensure the best outcome, even in difficult times. In fact, the difficult times are when most self-care is needed.
The Body: The body is the casing for your soul; therefore, it needs the utmost care. I can obviously lecture you on the clichés your doctor probably already lectures you about such as eating right, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, etc., but they cannot be underrated. I am not a health freak by any means, but I do the best that I can. If you take care of your body, you will feel physically better, which will help you feel mentally and spiritually better. For example, if you get enough sleep at night, you will be more mentally effective in your everyday tasks, which will help you feel better about yourself (spiritually) because you can accomplish more tasks, do them more effectively, less depressed (mentally, and be less likely to become ill (physically). Practices that are healthy for the mind and spirit (e.g. meditation, prayer, yoga, which I'll get to in just a second) can also reap rewards for your physically health.
The Mind: Your mind is your connection to the world because it enables you to process, think, and feel. Your thoughts create your reality. Even though negative thoughts are necessary to help you make decisions that are for your Highest Good (e.g. setting a boundary, getting out of an unpleasant situation, avoiding toxic people if possible, etc.), they should not rule your life. You should especially not stay in negative thoughts about forces beyond your control (e.g. the past, other people's issues, or temporary uncomfortable situations such as living with an addicted parent while you are in college to get a degree to get a good job and eventually move out). General positive thinking, gratitude/surrender journaling, general journaling, one-on-one counseling, support groups, yoga, mediation, prayer/faith in a Higher Power, engaging in a hobby, and other stress-management and positive thinking techniques help relieve the burden on the mind. If you change your thinking, you will start to manifest more good in your life. Remember, "Serenity is not freedom from the storm; it is peace amid the storm."
The Spirit: When I talk about the "spirit," "spirituality," or "spiritual" things, I am not talking about any specific religion or religion at all. Spirit and its related terms are about your personal spirit/soul and how to have an awakening to it and get in touch with it. Religion is a completely separate entity that is about rules and rituals that may speak to some people's souls and may not speak to others. Your spirit/soul is about who you are as a person, the essence of your being. Practices that may help you spiritually are engaging in activities that you enjoy and allow positive energy to flow through your being (e.g. going to the beach, going on a hike, hanging out in nature, painting, playing with your pet, etc.), hanging around people that you share a special connection with (your souls connect), contact with the Higher Power of Your Own Understanding through prayer, mediation, or attending a service at a church/spiritual center/synagogue/mosque/temple/or other faith-based institution; attending a self-help meeting, doing work with a counselor or life coach, reading a self-help or meditation book that clicks with you, and the list goes on. Spiritually is really that simple: find what makes you feel good and works for you. Spiritual paths differ greatly, but they all lead to one place: yourself. In order to be aligned with your soul, the mind and body need to be nurtured.
Don't Worry; I'm Still Alive
I know I have been gone for 6 months. I have been busy with school and life, and I was questioning whether I wanted to continue the blog due to low viewership, but I am going to try to blog every week to every other week to see if it helps viewership before making a decision. I absolutely love blogging on here, but it is hard to get motivated without reinforcement ( a little psychology lesson for you all, lol).
Some People Never Change...
My first blog post in half a year is on that recovery slogan "If nothing changes, NOTHING changes." It repeats itself because it is so important to understand, especially in codependency recovery. My inspiration for this post is a personal experience I had this past week.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I started missing my cousin who I had the codependency problem to. He has been out of prison for about a year and half now, living in my town about 10 minutes away from me with his girlfriend whom he started a relationship with during the final months of his sentence, and supposedly working for his girlfriend's fathers' trucking company (I have suspicions that it is a front because there are never any trucks where his business is addressed). I weighed out a few avenues: Instagram messaging, sending a card with a check in it for a small amount of money, waiting outside his house and following him into a store to " accidentally run into him," and even being daring and going and knocking on the door (that could have easily ended with me being escorted to a white car with flashy lights on the roof with shiny bracelets on wrists). I decided to send a card with a check in it, but I did not feel comfortable just eclipsing him with it, so I called his mother. I honestly did not expect her to answer the phone, but she did. We talked for about five minutes. She told me about her husband's death, my cousin and his brothers doing well, and how she is now old and sick. She sounded like she was on her deathbed and told me I was welcomed to come over anytime. I apologized for my role in the insanity when my mom and therapist told me I did nothing wrong. Yes, abuse, even non-physical abuse, really f***s you up. Abusers gaslight you into thinking that you are the problem when you are not. My mom and I decided we would take a ride this weekend, but we wanted to call her first. My mom called once, and I called once. We never got a response. I spoke to my therapist about it, and she said that it sounds like his mother was manipulating me.
Flash forward to today...
My mom decided it would be a good idea to visit his uncle who also lives in my town. He told us that his sister was not "old, sick, and dying" (one person who never changed) and that my cousin was doing well (I thought that meant he changed even though he was not on the path of recovery that I approved of). I decided to message him on Instagram, saying that I was proud of him, always wanted him to be happy and glad to hear that he was, was always here for him with my phone number to reach out, and loved him forever and ever. A few hours later, I checked and I was BLOCKED (another person who never changed). However, I do not regret it because it is another lesson in my recovery, a stepping stone in the right direction. It also showed me the current strength of my recovery. I am actually grateful for the experience.
Through the Eyes of Gratitude
If nothing changes, then nothing has changed or will changed. I cannot change or control anyone except myself. Everyday, I say this version of The Serenity Prayer, "I have serenity to accept the ones that I cannot change, the courage to change the ONE that I can, and the wisdom to know that ONE is me." Acceptance is not succumbing to an unacceptable situation; it is accepting the reality of the siutation and being able to make a decision about what to do about it. A fellow Codependents' Anonymous member once said that you cannot allow a person back into your life if they have not changed ohterwise they will hurt you the same way again. I still love my cousin, but I love myself even more to protect myself. I can only love him, pray for him/wish him well, and let him be who he is.
We're All Human
A major part of recovery is honesty. The people who always had the biggest impacts on me were those who were transparent and honest about their human experiences, even the difficult ones. Last week, I learned a difficult lesson. The person who I have a codependency problem to is my cousin, who suffers from substance use disorder and possibly a personality disorder. For the past 8 months, I have been really good about staying away from anything to do with him (e.g. his social media accounts, his family's and girlfriend's social media accounts, where he and the people he is associated with live, etc.) and focusing on my own healing and spiritual growth. A little over a week ago, I received intel that he was not living with his mother, who lives an hour away from me. That stirred up questions in my mind. I figured that if he is not living with his mother he must be either living in a sober living home (unlikely possibility because I found out 8 months ago he was either using again or had the same behaviors of a using addict) or with his unhealthy girlfriend who lives in my town (the more likely possibility). Against my better judgment, I typed his name into White Pages, and sure enough, he was living with his unhealthy girlfriend in my town just under 10 minutes away from me. I was angry and a number of scenarios were racing through my head such as running into him in the grocery store. That led to me looking into some more intel that I was not supposed to and was not healthy for me. Thankfully, I used the tools I learned in counseling (eg. writing an anger letter to him in my negative notebook and writing what I can learn from my lapse in my positive notebook )and saw my therapist that week and she helped get back on track. The compulsion was tough to resist for the first few days, but I have dealt with it through exercise, music, and working. It has been five days since I put an end to my lapse, and the compulsion is almost gone. The Universe helped me over the weekend by having two good quotes pop up on my Facebook Page (see photos above). Even though I am a blogger and writer on codependency, adult children of alcoholic issues, and recovery; attend self-help meetings fervently; and will be co-starting my own Codependents' Anonymous Meeting next week, I am still human and a codependent/adult child of an alcoholic who struggles just like you. Some days are harder to stay straight than others. The key is learning tools to deal with it.
Lapse Vs. Relapse
I was first introduced to the concept "Lapse vs. Relapse" in a SMART Recovery meeting, which is a 12-Step-Alternative that is based on evidence-based science. I learned that a lapse is straying off the path a little bit (e.g. breaking abstinence from a substance once or twice), as opposed to a relapse where you complete go off the path by going back to your old way of living. I experienced a lapse because I did not completely go back to my old way of living; I simply gave into some of my old codependent behaviors for a few days. If I had completely relapsed, I would completely engaged in all of my old codependent behaviors and at the same frequency, made a series of unhealthy decisions (e.g. dropping out of therapy, not putting effort into my schoolwork, etc.) , and would not have stopped until I hit another really bad bottom (e.g. deep depression, not doing well in school, etc.) A friend of my who is in codependency recovery and my therapist assured me that I did not lose my "sober time." My therapist told me that it was more about the tools I have learned and the progress I have made over time of perfect abstinence. The reality is that a behavioral addiction such as codependency has a harder to define line because it not a matter of whether or not you are using a substance. From my experience, codependency recovery is about not associating with your problem person (s) as much as possible, handling all of your other relationships better by not trying to fix or control other people, and working on your self. My friend told me he tough that codependency recovery was about not giving into unhealthy people and demands, working on yourself, and -most importantly- not letting others drag you down.
Learning and Growing from It
The Truth About Spirituality-What Is Spirituality?
Rest assured this blog is not about religion. When many people hear the word "spirituality," they cringe. I know I did when my counselor first introduced the idea to me. The reason "spirituality" is a scary word for many people is because spirituality has often been misconstrued to people (as it was to me) to be interchangeable with religion. Spirituality was never supposed to be about any type of religion, including religions or churches that claim to be "not religious," "a relationship," "non-denominational (fill in the blank with one of the world religions," etc. The word "Spiritual" originates from Latin and Greek words that mean "to have an awakening to self." Spirituality means to get in touch with your own personal spirit. In simple terms, spirituality is to know who are as a person. Spirituality is actually interchangeable with the terms "self-esteem" and "sense of self." You do not need to be a member of a specific religion to be spiritual. Having a strong sense of who you are and being willing to walk to the journey of life to learn more abut yourself along the way is all you need to be spiritual.
Spirituality is all about questions that concern you and your life's journey. Some of many spiritual questions are :
Spirituality Is Beneficial to Recovery
Addiction stems from a lack of sense of self, low self-esteem, or being spiritually dead (whichever term you prefer to use). The two main root causes of addiction are low self-esteem (the spiritual component) and childhood trauma. Since people who struggle with any type of addiction lack a sense of self, developing spirituality by getting to know one's self and learning to answer some of the spiritual questions, will help the recovery process. Spirituality can also help you heal from childhood trauma. For example, if you experienced childhood trauma, seeking to answer the spiritual question "What was the reason for my suffering?" and "What is my purpose in life?" and to find that the reason for your suffering was for you to break the chains of abuse/dysfunction in your family through learning better tools and raising your children better can help you heal from that.
I have experienced this effect in my codependency recovery. Eight months ago, I had no idea who I was. When my counselor would ask me basic questions such as "How would you describe yourself?" and "What do you like to do?," I would maybe say one or two cliché things and not be able to answer any more. Today, I can answer those questions a lot more specific, in-depth, and honestly. I feel like I know myself better know, and I am surprised to say I actually like and accept who that person is, something that I did not think would be possible months ago. One spiritual thing that I learned in recovery is that I love the Universal Truths that can be found in literature, art, science, nature, philosophy, great world leaders such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, all the different 4,200 world religions, etc. The Higher Power of My Understanding is the Universe. This past month, I actually started going to a spiritual center (definitely not a church) that hosts non-denominational celebration services on Sundays where we sing all different types of songs that celebrate individual spirituality and have motivational talks that use Universal Truths from The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes and other sources to get in touch with the Divine Power within us. From knowing and loving myself, I have less of a need to escape in my addiction. I know now that I can only find happiness within myself and being at peace with myself.
Addiction professionals agree that addiction is a multi-faceted disease that is physiological, psychological, psychosocial (concerning relationships with others), and spiritual. Addressing the spiritual component is winning 1/3 of the battle. Addiction often stems from wanting to run and escape from one's self. When a person becomes spiritual by embracing one's self, they feel less of a need to run and escape. The reality is you can run, but you cannot hide. The wonderful minister at my spiritual center said today that "The common denominator of al your life events is you. You were there. You could not go anywhere" therefore we must see every experience "as an opportunity to grow.
Why are Spirituality and Religion Often Connected?
By now, you may be wondering "If spirituality is all about knowing and finding myself and nothing to do with religion," why are the two terms "spirituality" and "religion" so connected and even used interchangeably at times? Spirituality and religion are connected because they answer some of the same spiritual questions and include the same Universal Truths about our interconnectedness as humans; therefore, it is a part of some people's spiritual journey. For example, a Christian may believe that the reason for being abused by their parent was for them to want to turn to Jesus as the father/parent they never had, and his or her moral compass may be in line with the Christian Church's moral compass. Another example is a Catholic may find peace in the quiet environment of the Catholic Church and feel connected with the Higher Power when receiving communion. Buddhists phrase the Universal Truth of the Golden Rule as "Hurt not others with that which pains yourself," and Christians phrase it as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It both means "Treat others the way you would like to be treated." "My counselor said during his lecture about Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, "Personal spirit comes first. Religion is just how some express it." A friend of mine said, "Some people can get in touch with their personal spirituality within a religion." For some people, the concept of the Higher Power that stems from a particular religion may be what truly resonates with them as the Higher Power of their Understanding.
What is the Actual Difference Between "Spirituality" and "Religion"?
Spirituality has to do with your personal self and the journey you are on in this life. Religion has to do with belief in an outside deity and a practice of a set of rules and traditions set by an organizational body such as a church or synagogue. Here is a chart that includes the generally agreed on differences between the two:
Many Paths to Spirituality
There are many paths to spirituality. Some people were fortunate enough to always have a strong sense of self; some people find it through simply living life; some people find it in a religion; some people find it through healing in counseling; some people may find it through practicing a talent of theirs such as art or music; and some people may find it through sitting in nature. But the bottom line is it is all about having a sense of self. Part of that is finding the path that works for you. Even though we humans have many differences such as different appearances, cultural backgrounds, religions, etc., we are all interconnected when it comes down to it. An article I read on the Huffington Post says, true spiritual people are kind. I think the reason for that is they have enough unconditional love, acceptance, and respect for themselves that they can give that to others, including those who are different from them. Just be kind to those who have a different path than yours. Though it may look different, the journey is all the same.
that Society is Simply Stupid
As I often mention in this blog, I am currently in counseling to work on my codependency and adult children of alcoholic issues. My recovery is still in its nascent stages, as I have just celebrated 7 months yesterday. These past 2 months, I have overcome a major underlying issue of my codependency and addictive tendencies, which was my lifelong struggle with my self-image. Self-image plays a major role in self-esteem. Self-esteem can be interchangeable with the terms "sense of self" and "spirituality," which means "having an awakening to one's self." In fact, the two main roots of any addiction are childhood trauma and low self-esteem. Since I had a low self-esteem, lack of sense of self, and was spiritually empty, I was primarily trying to control and fix other people, mostly my cousin who struggles with drug addiction, to fill that void.
There are five families of origin, which include 1. the actual family that raised you 2., community/neighborhood 3. religion or non-religion that you were raised with 4. your peers, and 5. society/the media. These are all considered the "family of origin" because they all play a role in shaping who you are. Since my parents always told me that I was beautiful and I was never mocked about my appearance from any extended of my family members, I believe that my negative self-image stemmed from society/the media and my peers. I remember when I first started preschool, I looked around and thought that the others girls were prettier than me. I would say I was about 6 or 7 when I actually looked in the mirror and thought that I was ugly. In first grade, I told my mom while we were shopping for clothes in Target that I was getting plastic surgery when I turned 18 to change my entire face (little did I know that at 18 I would be a struggling student who only made $80 dollars a week, lol). Being bombarded with magazines in the supermarket and television that glorified blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and supper skinny women made me feel ashamed to not look like them. Throughout elementary and middle school, I was bullied for my appearance and other traits. The distorted messages that I received from society/the media and my peers made me feel ugly inside and outside and ashamed to be me. As a teenager, I rarely posted selfies of myself on social media. I hated almost every picture of me, especially the pictures of me as a baby and child. From the time I was in 5th grade, going without makeup, even if I was just lounging around the house for the day, was like a crime because I hated looking at myself in the mirror without makeup. I dyed my hair for the first time when I was sixteen to cover up my natural black hair color instead of dying my hair to merely be creative or enhance my appearance. When I got contact lenses in 11th grade, I requested colored contact lenses to hide my natural dark brown eye color, but I could not get them because the specific contact lenses that I needed did not come in colors. For years, I did everything possible to hide any trace of my natural looks.
After getting stabilized in counseling my getting off my cousin's case, the real work began. Since I was no longer using another person to avoid looking at my own problems, I had to focus on myself. Boy, that was really scary. I had to rip off the bandages and dig deep down inside my infected wounds to remove the source of my pain. Through almost 2 months of intense therapy sessions, where I expressed feelings I never did before, got in touch with feelings I did not realize I had, and explored parts of myself that I never did before, I finally won my approximate 16-year battle with negative self-image. I just spent an entire day yesterday lounging around the house with no makeup on for the first time in years, and it actually felt good to be able to freely rub my face when I was tired and to be able to just get washed up and dressed before hitting the kitchen that morning. Today, I had to run quick errands so I only wore eyeliner and a light pink lipstick with just a sweep of blush, and I did not really think much of it or worry about what others thought of me. I now know that society was and is still simply stupid and my peers were young, ignorant, and cruel. I now realize that those were society's and my peer's problems, not mine. Their perception were their issues, not the absolute truth. After all, there are no absolutes in this life.
How to Combat Negative Self-Image Issues
(Photos taken from Google Images)
Teacher Appreciation Week 2019
This upcoming school week is (Monday, May 6th, 2019-Friday, May 10th) is Teacher Appreciation Week. Teachers are everyday heroes in our society that prepare the next generation to change the world for the better. Unfortunately, in today's society, teachers are not given enough credit by politicians, parents, students, and -in some cases- school administrators, which breaks my heart. The burnout rate in the teaching profession is high, causing many to leave the profession every year because many do not feel like their efforts are reaping any reward. The reality is that teachers make a positive impact on students' lives everyday because they are planting seeds in the minds of every student, which will help the students later in life as they advance further in their education, start theirs careers, and face different personal triumphs and tribulations. Teachers' efforts often take years to be seen because the seeds that they plant often take years to grow into a thriving flower for the students who take the time to water them. Teacher Appreciation Week brings to society's attention the significant role that teachers play in raising the next generation.
How I Came to Develop Such a Respect for my Teachers
During my elementary school years, I did not like school or take it seriously because I was bored and experienced bullying. I was indolent and only put in the minimum effort required to get honor roll to meet my mom's expectations. My fourth grade year was a major turning point in my education. My dad, who has been an alcoholic for most of my life, was sentenced to six months in jail. Since my mom had to work multiple jobs to support us, I was babysat my mom's cousin, who also happened to be a mentally-ill alcoholic and had two young adult children who were abusive drug addicts. Out of fear of burdening my mom and causing even more family tension than there was at the time and the fact my codependency issues started to surface at the time, I did not tell my mom and continued to let myself be babysat by them. After that ordeal was over, I was never the same again. However, never being the same again was not all negative. One of the ways that situation changed me was wanting better myself so I could rise above my adversity and not be like my two drug addict cousins.
While it was not until years later that I began to address my codependency and adult children of alcoholic (ACOA) issues holistically in counseling, my teachers played a significant role in keeping me on the right track through their inspiring words, kindness, humility, and effectiveness in teaching their designated subject. When I finally got into counseling the summer after I graduated from high school, I had to make separate lists of the positive and negative people, places, and things in my childhood and adolescence. For my list of positive people in my adolescence, the majority of those people were almost all of the teachers that I had in school. Now that I am actively working my recovery, I often refer to the wise words of my teachers during times of doubt and indecision. Looking back, I firmly believe the Universe placed me with every teacher I had for a reason.
The Positive Impacts Teachers Made on My Life
Many of my teachers were surprised to find out while I was in their class or after I graduated high school and became connected with them on social media that I was a child of an alcoholic because I was always got good grades and did not have any behavior problems. Last fall, I attended a seminar where former NFL player Jeff Hatch was speaking about his experiences with addiction that started when he in high school, lasted all through college when he was triple-major at the University of Pennsylvania, and during his NFL career. He stated to all of the teachers, guidance counselors, and other education professionals in the room "To not always worry so much about the kid who strolls into class 30 seconds late everyday, chews gum, and uses their phone in class. Instead, take the time to check up on the kids who are always doing everything right because they may be struggling with something and is using school to compensate." My mom and I gave him applause when he said that because that describes how I was in school. Just like Jeff Hatch, school was a place where I thrived even though I was struggling with a plethora of issues in my personal life.
Ironically, many of us children of alcoholics, addicts, and/or dysfunctional families are often the best students and employees because we become perfectionists and people-pleasers as coping mechanisms and/or because our dysfunctional family systems demands it of us. Even though we children and adult children of alcoholics may have it all together on the outside, we are often struggling on the inside and our personal relationships are unmanageable. The Adult Children of Alcoholics Laundry List is a helpful source in understanding children and adolescents of alcoholics because those behavior patterns often begin in childhood and the first chapter of the book From Survival to Recovery by the Al-Anon Family Groups, which explains why children of alcoholics are often the most successful people. I firmly believe in that saying "Knowledge is power" applies to everyone regardless of how old they are.
Hello, Readers! I am happy to share with you that my semester ends this week and my summer classes will be online, so I will have a lot more time to post blog posts. It feels like it was just last week that it was the end of January and I was so nervous about starting college. Now that I am at the end of my first semester, I have to say that college is pretty awesome. The flexibility is great, the topics in class are fascinating, the free-thinking and critical thinking that is encouraged is stimulating, and the assignments are actually fun (I wrote a research paper on adult children of alcoholics for my developmental psych class, how is that not fun? lol). The good news is I think I finally figured out "what I want to be when I grow up", which is a community health educator. In case you don't know, a community health educator is a public health worker who plans programs and events to educate people within an organization or community about various health issues such as mental health, sexual and reproductive health, drugs and alcohol, nutrition, safety, etc. and conducts research to figure out a group's health education needs. I am still pursing a B.A. in psychology, but now I will also be pursing a B.S. in community health advocacy and education simultaneously! That makes me excited to go back to school in the fall! Lol. Which takes me to today's blog post...
A Typical Codependent/ACOA's Identity Struggle
Here's some psychology for you: adolescent's go through a process to find their identity. This process includes three stages: identity diffusion (have no idea), identity moratorium (still figuring it out), and identity foreclosure (absolutely sure). Choosing a career is a major part of the adolescent identity discovery process and is a part of almost every adolescent's identity discovery. While every adolescent struggles to choose a career; hence, 50 percent of college freshmen change their major within the first two years of undergrad, adolescents who come from alcoholic homes and/or families have a harder time because they are often forced to grow up quicker, are too focused on their family issues to think deeply about what they want to do for a career, and most likely come from family systems that are not supportive of them finding and expressing their identity. I am going to share with you my story to paint the picture for you. After all, we learn from other's experience, strength, and hope.
My struggle started in the 6th grade. When I was in 6th grade, I wanted to be an addictions counselor and an interventionist like Kristina Wandzilak. I did excellent in school that year, getting straight A's all four marking periods, so the future of my secondary education was looking bright. However, that was the year my addicted cousin got sentenced to prison, and my codependency issues to him really progressed. Since he would be released the year that I graduated high school, I figured that I would have to be home near the family and not too busy to babysit him to make sure he did not relapse. I gave up my dreams of going to a university to study addictions counseling or psychology and resigned to being a paralegal and just getting an associate's degree from one of my local community colleges (classic codependent thinking).
Mid to late high school was when I got a little wiser. When I was in 10th grade, I decided that I really did not want to be a paralegal and discovered that a bachelor's degree or higher was required to be a paralegal anyway. Since I struggled with a lack of sense of self, the only thing I thought I was good at and was interested in was writing, so I thought about being a journalist, even though I had no idea what a journalist even was at the time. During the fall of my senior year of high school, I got accepted into a local university, which was all that I could get accepted to because I did not take SATs or ACTs or a second year of a foreign language, for writing arts to be a web content writer (after learning what a journalist was from my mom's friend who was a journalism professor at the university I got accepted to). My job as a freelance writer and TV production and social media marketing classes quickly proved a career in web content writing was not for me because of the monotony and my lack of tech-savviness. Again, since I did not know what else I was interested in, I decided to go back to my 12 year-old self's choice of becoming an addictions counselor, and I thought it was my dream come true. However, the long, complicated licensing process and burnout rate was not my dream come true. After my cousin was released from prison, my codependency progressed to the worst it has ever been. My mom expressed to me that she did not think being an addictions counselor was the best for my mental health or what I was really destined to do in in my life, and my counselor told me not to commit to a career like that at this point in my growth process because I lacked a sense of self, was actually addicted to "helping" my family members who struggle with addiction, and needed to have my own issues under control for a while before helping others with their issues.
During my semester off between high and college (I unexpectedly had to take a semester off because of the addictions counselor licensing process leaving me confused about where to go to school), my mom suggested for me to become a teacher because that was what she always wanted to when she was younger but never got to because of the costs of college and thought I would enjoy the summers off (great reasons, I know). I never wanted to be that teacher who went into the profession just for the summers off, but I figured that since teachers made such an impact on my life and I enjoyed school and saw the salaries of the teachers from my old high school, I thought it might not be a bad idea. I loved the idea of being a high school psychology teacher, but I knew jobs were limited. I ended up changing my major from psychology for the upcoming spring to English-secondary education. When I started my job as a substitute paraprofessional and saw what working in a school is actually like and thought about how I did not like and struggled with English literature in high school, I ended up changing my major back to psychology and decided to let go and let the Universe bring the right people and circumstances into my life to reveal the answer to me about my future career.
Sure enough, the Universe did just that. I went back to work as a freelance writer after my semester started to make extra money since I could not sub as many days after starting my semester. My first article was about being a health coach (which is another name for a health educator). I was writing about how it has a rapidly growing job market, has a good starting salary, and (most importantly) includes a lot of helping people through public speaking, individual consulting, creating materials, and planning and organizing events and programs. I remembered a YouTube lifestyle guru that I used to watch before she stopped making videos who was a community health educator at a university in California and how I always thought her job was fun. After doing a lot of research into the career, I decided there was nothing in it that sounded like a downfall. There were plenty of teachers, nurses, and social workers who complained about there jobs on the internet, but not community health educators. That is how I reached identity foreclosure. While I firmly believe that I am set on my choice now, I am open to changes in plans if the Universe shows me other directions. While I originally did not think my local university was my dream school, I now know it is because it gives me enough free electives that I can study what I love and what I want to do for a career at the same time and in 4 years.
Now After My Long Story, What Can You Learn from My Struggle?
My struggle to figure out what I wanted to do for a career was tied to 10% typical youth and the other 90% my codependency and ACOA issues. Looking back at how my issues affected my career choice, I see where the errors in thinking came from.
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.