Recovery Isn’t What You’d Expect
On a recent trip to Portland, I grabbed a copy of Co-Dependence, Healing the Human Condition, by Charles L Whitfield. I’ve long admired Dr. Whitfield’s work. He’s been writing about co-dependence, inner child work, and adult child issues for decades (and authored dozens of books!) His is one of the enduring voices for adult children of traumatic and dysfunctional upbringings.
A Note to Therapists
If you’re treating clients whose parents struggled with addictions or who experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), please study Dr. Whitfield’s work. Therapists are part of the moment as those who help clients turn-around the effects of childhood trauma. You can bring greater understanding of the core issues to your therapeutic work and better help clients by integrating Dr. Whitfield’s deep knowledge into your own.
I’m slowly digesting this fantastic book, and will share gems as I go.
The 3 phases of recovery is one of those gems.
DISCLAIMER: All of this language is my own, inspired by the book. The concept of three phases and the nature of the three phases is the work of Dr. Whitfield.
Stage One – CRISIS! PEOPLE, I NEED A SOLUTION HERE!
This first stage is the “AH-HA!” moment we experience — the flipping of a switch — in which we feel so, so sick and tired of being sick and tired. We realize that there’s something wrong in our life, and we think that ‘something’ is living and operating within us.
We feel powerless. We are hurting. We know we’re sick of the patterns and we know we want to change them. But here’s the rub: we also feel powerless to change them. That is the conundrum, and it’s a painful one.
We finally realize that (a) there’s a Problem and that (b) we cannot solve the problem Alone. We decide, “I’m going to seek help.”
This stage brings contradictory feelings: we feel relief but confusion, we feel hope but huge overwhelm! We are feeling a lot of feelings and we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of feelings. We would give up and return to the chaos, drama, and codependence — except: we are done with the frustration the the cycles, and in pain. We’re really, truly DONE and ready to END THE INSANITY.
That’s when we reach out for help. A therapist, a 12 step group, group therapy, blogs like this, or online communities. We quickly realize we are not alone. We can survive this. There is a road starting here.
Something to watch out for is addictions, addictive behavior, and the whack-a-mole of addictions (you stop drinking but you unconsciously start shopping more). When you’re in pain and feeling overwhelmed, that may be when you reach for: food, the “BUY” button online, sex, stirring up drama with people, alcohol, dugs – you name it. So, be aware and watch out for new and/or different coping habits.
Stage Two – TAKING CONTINUOUS ACTION TO HEAL
We begin to think: It’s not me. It’s my childhood. Something is off. The something is in me, but not because of me or who I am. As we begin to do research we learn a new vocabulary – adult-child, codependence, ACoA, toxic shame, etc. And we begin to relate the theories we come across online with our childhood — we read something like, “Children of alcoholic parents have trouble finishing projects, ending conversations, feeling like themselves…” and we identify. We realize we are one of those people, and that we have a “diagnosis” (so to speak) and even better, that we have a tribe.
Much grieving occurs during stage two.
The grieving comes as we learn how to find ourselves again, and we see what we missed out on in childhood. As we take action to become actors in our lives, as we move out of a life of victimhood and reacting to everyone and everything and into a life that we steer and in which we take action, we grieve what we didn’t get. We grieve who we didn’t become. We grieve the loss of love that we are slowly learning to give ourselves.
Deep self-discovery and the work of putting what you learn into action begins in this stage. It’s a stage with steep climbs and temporary plateaus. You begin to start saying “no,” to establish boundaries, establish needs, and disengage from codependent dynamics. You might end friendships or marriages, or you may transform them. This stage begins and repeats over time.
As you enter stage two, you will probably believe that it won’t take “long” to heal. You’ll imagine you’re going to work really hard and wrap it up in a year or so. Tee hee. We all find that after a certain period of time (a year, or so) that our thinking was right and wrong, both. We realize that self-healing and recovery are a way of life, not a destination. We see that we’re feeling good when we put what we’re learning into practice. Because of that satisfaction from the work, we stop asking, “How long is healing myself going to take?”
However, if you are still asking that question, read my post from last week.
Stage Three – I HAVE A SPIRITUAL LIFE
This stage just creeps up on you. At some point after you’ve given yourself over to stage two being a way of life, a journey without a destination, you suddenly find that your spiritual life is blooming and central to you being You.
When you’re in stage three, you’ll be regularly practicing self care and doing your daily spiritual practices. For some people, knowing God is what happens in this stage. For others, like me, that is feeling deeply connected to and empowered by All-That-Is. The Universe.
This is where you know, and cultivate, a connection to God, to Goddess, to a higher power, to All-That-Is. Your emptiness is filled. You will begin to think to yourself, “I am loved.” You will love yourself, love being alive, and feel ready to be of service to others making the journey.
You’ll feel overwhelmed during this phase too, but not overwhelmed by pain or by resentment. You’ll feel overwhelmed by love and gratitude.
You can handle small “relapses” without being distraught or destroyed when you fall. You know your identity and true self and have fewer and fewer instances of ‘forgetting’ who you truly are.
- Be kind to yourself.
You can get Dr. Whitfield’s book here, Co-Dependence Healing the Human Condition.
Reference: Co-Dependence: Healing The Human Condition: The New Paradigm for Helping Professionals and People in Recovery by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D. (HCI Publications 1991).
Amy Eden is the author of The Kind Self-Healing Book: Raise Yourself Up with Curiosity and Compassion