By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Until we have met the monsters in ourselves, we keep trying to slay them in the outer world. And we find that we cannot. For all darkness in the world stems from darkness in the heart. And it is there that we must do our work.~ Marianne Williamson
How convenient and dishonest to say that all the harmful things I did to people were in my use. Then I could blame my behaviors, attitudes, and actions on a substance, not the shadow aspects of myself or my character defects.
In our addiction, we become the monster.
- We lie, cheat, and steal.
- Our self-centeredness means we only think of ourselves and our wants.
- The compulsion to use overrides any other rational thought.
- It’s difficult to see ourselves in the mirror and realize what we have become.
- We avoid family and friends.
- People are just something to use to facilitate our addiction, we manipulate to get what we want.
- We are not responsible and start losing jobs, children, supportive people, and with our inability to face reality, we have to start blaming others for our situation.
Distorting Isn’t Always about Use
This failure to face reality, or denial, is a psychological defense mechanism whereby we avoid acknowledging or seeing some aspect of our character, life or reality. We actively deny and distort what we see in the mirror, hear from co-workers, family, or our friends. Usually, it is because we feel ashamed or judge those aspects of ourselves harshly.
Nor, did those shadow traits and character defects miraculously disappear because I wasn’t putting cocaine up my nose, heroin in my veins, or drinking alcohol. You’d think with all those substances, I could blame at least one of them for my actions.
But pretending that something or someone else was at fault for how I behaved was a waste of time and energy. Not only was it futile, but in many ways, that denial encouraged those aspects of myself to act out.
I’ve heard people in meetings say they’d like to kill their addiction. However, I’d like you to think about that logically. What does any living thing do if you try to harm or kill it? It retaliates and fights back. This idea made sense to me in my early recovery, so I looked for ways to merge my character defects and use them to strengthen my recovery.
We also hear people talking about the countless voices in their heads telling them to do this, do that and creating emotional turmoil. Again, I decided that I could try to find a way to include my addict while still making progress in my recovery.
From Denial to Including the Distortions
- Self-centered and selfish became self-interested. I would take the time to find out what I thought, how I thought, and what I could change about my thinking process.
- Greedy became a voracious wanting to learn all I could about recovery; learning from others as well as reading all I could find on the subject.
- Arrogant became Proud. I would take each milestone in my recovery, whether it was a chip acknowledging time, or a compliment about my changes, as validation for improving my life.
- Jealous became desirous. If someone had a quality, I admired and “wished” I had, I asked them how they incorporated it into their lives. Then I followed their directions.
Transforming the Defects and Distortions
An interesting thing happened. The voices that were clamoring for attention in my head started working together. No, I do not have a recognized mental health diagnosis, just a way of looking at things and processing them that works for me and might be beneficial to you as well. When I set about transforming negative aspects into something positive, I got better outcomes.
Risktaking to Courage
1. I had the addict, that one of me who took risks in her addiction. Therefore, when I needed the courage to explore my character defects or shadow aspects, I called upon her.
Guilty Remembering to Aware
I imagined her with 3 X 5 cards with headings like The Year of Stupid Decisions, The Year of Disappointments, or The Year of Accomplishments. Then the memories of the actions and outcomes would give me a historical perspective on how my decisions had panned out in the past and what, if anything, I could do differently in my recovery. From denial to awareness.
Immature to Responsible
3. My inner child, that one who felt left out, or only wanted to play. All this serious “looking at myself” stuff was just too much some days. Rather than have her act out, I would make her a promise that we would play at a particular time, and then honor that pledge.
Distorting your Actions or Transforming Them?
A simple test: If people are questioning your actions, why not hear them out, test their opinion and yours, and then discuss what you find, rather than the predictable reactions of denial like:
- Actively defending the actions, behaviors or aspects
- Becoming defensive when the subject comes up
- Getting angry, irritated or indignant that people are speaking ill of us
- Changing the subject and avoiding it
I know in the recovery home that I ran, there were decisions that I made that did not please all 17 of the women. Rather than take the position of, “I’m the boss and what I say goes”, I would hear their objections and then either refute them at that time or tell them I would get back to them.
Most of the time, I adhered to my original position; however, there were times that a compromise would work that satisfied the greater number of women. I could view these episodes of responding and not reacting as progress in my arrogance, self-centeredness, and conceit about my opinions and decisions.
Challenge Your Addiction
For the next week, see if you can’t find your predictable character defects or shadow aspects and how you might alter them to accommodate your recovery. In the end, that new behavior appeases everyone – you, the shadow or darker self, and surprisingly, others.
That is the transforming power of recovery.
Writing, and recovery heal the heart.
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