By: Brenda Basham Dothage
“Recovery unfolds in three stages. The central task of the first stage is the establishment of safety. The central task of the second stage is remembrance and mourning. The central focus of the third stage is reconnection with ordinary life.” ~ Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
We have all experienced at least one traumatic event in our life. A painful breakup, divorce, health issues, the death of a loved one(s), time spent in the military, or other types of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
Addictions often begin because we haven’t been taught coping skills to handle the trauma of life. Our addiction becomes our coping mechanism and how we deal with life.
If we have experienced these or other similar traumas it is probable we will experience a range of symptoms that may interfere with our day-to-day lives. These symptoms can mirror those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The symptoms can range from feelings of anger, irritability, depression, and feeling distrustful. Symptoms can include physical aches and pains, excessive weight gain or loss, alcohol and drug use, substance abuse, and suicidal feelings and thoughts. The symptoms can begin immediately after a traumatic event or years later. Stressful situations may trigger these symptoms.
Stress and Positive Life Events
However, positive situations such as a new relationship, a job promotion, a wedding or a birth in the family, can also trigger the PTSD-like symptoms. It is not uncommon to sabotage ourselves, even when things are going smoothly.
Promiscuity, illicit affairs, drinking, drug use, overeating, and overspending are a few examples of this type of behavior. We do this because deep inside we feel undeserving and unworthy. These feelings of unworthiness stem from a negative self-image and a lack of coping skills, and the further we spiral in our addiction, the more damage we inflict on our self-image.
However, we can learn coping skills and recover from addiction.
Addiction and Self-image
I have developed a Self-image Indicator that depicts the various character traits for the four levels of self-image. The greater number of character traits we have in any one level will decide our current self-image level.
It is possible to experience traits from all the levels at once. Just because we have a positive self-image does not mean we will never get mad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, or feel sad and lonely. It’s okay to experience these feelings.
In addition to the foundational traits of self-love (positive) and self-hate (negative) the difference between having a positive self-image and a negative self-image is that with a positive self-image we choose to spend less time feeling bad and more time feeling good.
Whether we have a positive or negative self-image we practice Self-Image Skill Building daily to increase and then maintain a positive self-image.
No one has a 100% positive self-image 100% of the time. We are not perfect. However, we can be perfect in our imperfections. We can learn and include coping skills in our day-to-day life. We can recover from addiction.
Listed below are the foundational steps 1 through 7 essential for all the levels. I use these same steps in the course of my teaching, coaching, and counseling sessions.
Self-image Skill Building Steps For Level A
- Talk to someone (counselor, psychologist, pastor, or close friend) or write in a journal about the trauma(s) you have experienced.
Tell your story or write about your story. Talk about all the details!
Tip: It’s okay to cry. In fact, crying is a good release. If you don’t want to cry in front of people, then cry in the shower and let the water wash away the pain.
Write about anything and everything. Writing is a good way to release. Do some free writing. Don’t think about what you are writing, just write. It doesn’t have to make sense and it doesn’t have to be about anything important. The point is to release the “stuff” that builds up in our mind.
Tip: Write “How do I feel?” Answer this question honestly and then ask why. Continue this process and you will discover how you really feel and why.
Begin the forgiveness process knowing that we are all doing our best at any given moment in time. We want to forgive ourselves first. We can write about this in a journal, and visualize the past being swept away into the vastness of the universe. We can verbalize an affirmation such as “I forgive myself” or “I am forgiven”. Repeat these affirmations until you can see and feel the forgiveness.
Most of us believe in some form of a higher power, Supreme Being, God or whatever terminology we consider appropriate. Let your higher power help you with the forgiveness process. See and feel yourself enveloped in this love and forgiveness.
Do what works best for you, but do this until you feel complete forgiveness. Use this same process to forgive everyone. Practice until forgiving is as natural as breathing.
Tip: In front of a mirror, look deep into your eyes, acknowledge that you were doing the best you could at that moment and you will achieve an even greater feeling of forgiveness.
- Smile at yourself in the mirror.
One of the first steps toward a positive self-image is to smile at yourself in the mirror. Even though this may seem silly it does work. I have personally counseled hundreds of clients and taught numerous classes using this same premise. The results have been remarkable. Practice until it becomes a natural process of your life just like brushing your teeth.
Have you ever seen babies and small children when they look in the mirror? They smile. It’s natural to smile at our self when we look in the mirror.
Tip: Draw a happy face on the mirror if it will help but make sure that you give yourself a huge smile every time you look in the mirror.
- Say “I Love You” to yourself when you smile in the mirror and Hug Yourself!
Look deep into your eyes, smile, and say with sincerity and purpose “I love you”.
Let yourself feel the love and approval. Give yourself a BIG hug. (It’s okay to do these steps privately behind closed doors. It is not necessary to say “I love you” out loud as long as you say it to yourself; it will work). The reason we lose track of loving our self is because we compare our self to other people. We think we have to become this “ideal” person. But really, what is an “ideal” person?
Who are you trying to emulate and why? The only “ideal” person we can ever become is our true self. Each one of us is an original. There is only one YOU. You are an original why would you want to be a copy?
Tip: Fall in love with yourself! There is no such thing as loving yourself too much. Conceit and arrogance are indicators of a negative self-image. Self-love is an indicator of a positive self-image.
- Sit quietly for a minimum of 2 minutes daily.
Get comfortable, relax, and sit alone in complete silence. Close your eyes and turn your mind off. Begin with 2 minutes every day, then increases it as you can until you reach 10 minutes every day.
Tip: No television, no music, no talking, no phones, no reading and no one in the room with you. Alone, just you and yourself!
- Laugh Out Loud every day.
Make a point to find humor and amusement in life. Watch the comedy channel. Watch a funny movie or television show. Read a funny book. Laughing makes you feel good and feeling good, feels much better than feeling bad.
Commit To Two Weeks
Practice steps 2 through 7 several times every day for two weeks.Then increase it to at least 5 times every day for two more weeks. With daily, consistent use, these methods are proven to be extremely effective and will produce positive life-changing outcomes.
Detailed information and in-depth Skill Building Steps for levels B – D are found in my book: Think your Life into Action.
Bio: Brenda Basham Dothage
Brenda is an artist, author, counselor, and motivational facilitator. She has a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from University of Phoenix (UOP), and a baccalaureate degree in English from California State University, Bakersfield. In addition, she studied Psychology at Walden University.
She has served as an instructor for self-image workshops, a counselor for sexual assault survivors, a coordinator for a children’s planning council, and a member of the Board of Director’s for a children’s museum. In addition to her artwork, writing and counseling duties, she has experience in various business ventures, and the publishing and PR industry. Self-image and coping skills are Brenda’s area of specialization. She teaches the importance of self-image and coping skills within the course of her counseling and coaching sessions. The results have been remarkable.
Link to Brenda’s book: Think your Life into Action
To contact Brenda: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Brenda’s artwork:
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.