The Other Side of Addiction

I’ve been in recovery for almost five years. It’s difficult to say, however, what my recovery is from. There’s no measureable substance with which I can relate my sobriety, no way to legitimately claim abstinence from a particular behavior. There is no 90-day or five-year chip. Some people might not believe that my recovery is “as important” or “as difficult,” or even “as real” as recovery from a substance or specific behavior. They might also believe that the damage from this side of addiction couldn’t equal its counterpart.

I can assure you, however, my recovery is real—as real as the destruction in its wake. And it’s been a difficult journey. Some of you may be able to relate. Others may not want to.

My addiction is emotional and relational—almost impossible to quantify, but poignant in body and soul. Clean and sober, for me, is a process that occurs internally and in the realm of how I connect with people in my most intimate relationships. The only way to understand whether I’m “on” or “off” the wagon is by having a felt sense of being in relationship with me—and not just any relationship—being in the grit of life with me.

Maybe it’s silly for me to look at my own earlier relational habits as addictive processes. But if we are not able to look at this spectrum—the tightrope that we all have walked, in some form or fashion, whether personally or in relation to others—it’s impossible to have the necessary understanding and compassion when it comes to the need to hold and heal the overarching epidemic of addiction in our culture and world. It has literally become part of the infrastructure of our relatedness, an underlying root system that is rotting out from under us, from which our relational matrix has evolved.

A large percentage of how we know one another, how we manage emotions in the presence of one another, how we share intimacy, and how we function are relational constructs that have depended on generational patterns of addiction to exist. And it is essential that we look to each one of us—to how we’ve been a part of this evolving destructive cycle, if we want to begin to heal our capacity for being in the world and with one another.

It’s easier to think of addiction in regard to alcohol or drugs, or a behavior such as pornography, gambling, gaming, or sex. It’s much more clear to imagine how the effects of those behaviors can wreak havoc in families and relationships, or in our professional lives. …But emotional addiction? What does that even mean? And who’s to say what’s addictive when it comes to our hearts expression?  One way to look at it is this:  An addictive personality has an inability to regulate emotions internally, so seeks some external substance, behavior, emotion, or relationship to help regulate. This could be alcohol, sex, heroine, shopping, food, relationship, control, gaming, or any other number of behaviors intended to provide short-term relief from emotional discomfort.

Some might see these types of relational/emotional addictive patterns as a “co-addiction” or co-dependency. The thing is… ALL addiction is RELATIONAL. It begins with emotional pain—emotional loss or trauma. And it begins in relationship. And I want to point to the beauty in that, as it is through relationship—with ourselves and others—that we heal.

Culturally, it is easy to look to an “identified patient” when it comes to addiction. But addiction happens within a system of closeness, of togetherness, of intimacy of some sort, and so really, addiction IS co-addiction, and almost always happens in a co-dependent system. And it is through a systemic lens that we need to look, if we are going to heal.


Systems support dependency through co-dependency. Think about it.


Since addiction doesn’t happen alone, we don’t heal alone. We heal when we are in the presence of willingness, compassion, understanding, honesty, challenge, and grace; and are able to allow our pain some space–to have a voice. When we can fully be with what is in the presence of another, we have an opportunity of living into the people we were designed to be. When we learn to allow healthy relationship to help regulate our nervous systems, with mindful intention, we can begin to increase our own tolerance for emotion, and learn to organize and regulate our experiences from an internal locus of control.  

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Emotional pain lights up the brain just like physical pain, and whether an addiction is to an external substance or an internal feeling, the brain’s pain response can be soothed in similar ways. Our addictive patterns—whether to heroine, shopping, or emotional control or drama—are all attempts to soothe pain, to escape it—to be in the world, in our bodies, and in relationship with others.

As Dr. Gabor Maté says, we need to be looking not at what’s wrong with addiction, but what works—what’s right about it. When we can understand how it’s working, we can begin to understand the underlying need. And when we can understand and validate the true need, the habit and/or desire to avoid it can dissipate.

So what’s the difference between addiction and co-addiction?

Let’s first define addiction:

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be momentarily pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. In this scenario, the decision to stop ingesting the substance or engaging in the activity can feel impossible.

The definition of co-addiction looks a little different:

Co-addiction is the dependence on the needs, behaviors, or control of, another—to the point where one can become entirely preoccupied—and placing a lower priority on one’s own needs and behavior, resulting in an external locus of control: The experience of one’s emotions being regulated by someone or something external to the self. Initially, the experience can feel pleasurable, as it can result in a sense of connectedness, purpose, the building of ego, and the feeling of “care-taking.” For an active co-addict, however, the decision to “let go” of an addict and their behavior, and focus instead on SELF, can feel insurmountable.


If any one of us finds ourselves in intimate, long-term relationship to “an addict,” let’s get clear:

That doesn’t happen if we don’t have the right wiring to be in relationship with addiction. We are an integral piece in the puzzle. This is where co-dependency can be confusing. If we’re in an addictive system that we can’t seem to get out of, we are on the spectrum of addiction—plain and simple. That doesn’t mean that other things aren’t in play, or that we always have equal culpability in every relationship or situation. It does mean, however, that what we bring to the table matters and that more than likely, if we’re blaming an addict, we have blind spots with regard to how we are impacting our relationship.

Addictions related to our emotions can contribute to levels of toxicity in our lives that equal, and may even surpass, the damage done by chemical or behavioral addictions, mostly because of our lack of awareness, coupled with our blame toward “the addict.” When we see another as “the problem,” we disregard areas in our own lives that are causing damage. We may be embodying contempt, which research has shown is the kiss of death to relationship. (That’s another article!) When we focus on another’s problems, we also disempower ourselves to take charge of our own path. We become the victim to our situation and lose our objectivity—our ability to clearly see a different way.

I have fallen “off the wagon” multiple times. What does that look like, you might wonder. Someone with a substance addiction can’t “kind of” relapse—a drink or drug is a tangible slide. Yet a thought…. even a misstep in relationship is subtle—less obvious. Comfortable, in a way, because it’s what we “know,” (that early wiring) and also because there is a certain relational truth to the core underpinnings of our addictive behavior—the underlying intention to connect in ways that feel good can be incredibly healthy. The feeling, though, is also incongruent, and most often in my case, I’m the only one any wiser. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better during the last decade at tracking the subtle shifts that clue me in, and less comfortable with how they land.

When I have a misstep, the most obvious impact is that I feel incongruent with who I know myself to be in intimate relationship. It shows up in my behavior, in my every day emotional presence, and in my body. Dr. Maté shares a quote in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts stating, “Nothing records the effects of a sad life so graphically as the human body.” When we learn to pay attention to the subtle shifts in sensation, in our bodies, we begin to know when we’re off track, and how to utilize that deeper wisdom to help us find our way back into alignment.

So… the actual point of this share?

We’re in this together, each of us. We exist in systems that are held in greater systems; from physiological, biological perspectives, from family, relational, community, and cultural perspectives, from spiritual and energetic perspectives, and from the perspective of healing, change, and growth.

Healing addictive cycles needs to happen from a “bottom up” approach, rather than a “top down” approach, changing the foundation verses treating the symptoms. We need to nourish the mitochondria of a diseased cell before we simply apply a balm to the resulting external wound. We need to look at the foundation of this matrix of our cultural connectedness—our human identity and the way in which we experience one another.  We need to understand how we’ve woven together the fabric of our human experience and how each of us are a part of that fabric. We need to heal from a lens of togetherness rather than separateness.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, your own sharing, your resistance and reservations.

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

Pass At Me – Timbaland

This is a really fun piece choreographed by Alina Fowler, one of the other Afro-Caribe instructors.  Definitely a piece that takes up some space….  and teaches us to TAKE UP SPACE!

Enjoy and give it a shot at home!

 

The Value of Grief

It’s one of those nights when every song that plays reaches some part of my heart that can’t help but open to grief—I’m in tears every 10 minutes or so. Not because anything bad has happened, or because I’m in a difficult place—simply because it’s there—that grief, these tears—they are in me. It’s part of the human experience to suffer, sometimes to grieve, and if we don’t give it space when it makes a natural appearance, its later manifestation is never quite so congruent with our hearts.

This sadness, tonight, is asking for my attention.

Grief is not comfortable, for most of us anyway. It’s not something we choose to hang out with much. And in our efforts to avoid it, I often wonder what else we miss. We do so much to push it away, repress, suppress, distract, distance—but isn’t there validity in our pain? Isn’t there something there that, if we can lean into it, might have some wisdom to impart to our hearts?

There is a reason that we weep to the point that, at times, grief3
it can feel as if our hearts will rip apart. And I have to wonder, is it maybe our soul’s way of asking us to stretch a little further into life, into love? Love is certainly not for the weak of heart, so if we are going to feel its depth, we better find ways to strengthen our tolerance.

My belief is that when we are willing to allow grief some space in our hearts, and we stretch into the discomfort, and simply “stay” …we are equally strengthening our capacity for the other end of our emotional spectrum. We stretch ourselves into deeper love, to fuller compassion toward the human experience, into more receptive intimacy, into more complete authenticity, and into gentleness toward ourselves, and to those around us.

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Grief can break us open, and in the depths of our open hearts, we sometimes find who we were made to be.

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

 

 

 

 

 

Bullying–a Cycle of Abuse

Talking to our children about bullying definitely makes it more real, doesn’t it? When we begin to see our kids concern, hear their questions, feel their fear? And how we navigate those tender topics will have a lot to do with how our children respond to the idea, and the reality, of this pervasive form of societal abuse.

Nathaniel and I had an interesting dialogue tonight about bullying, victims, and different kinds of abuse—including one person lying about another, or blaming a victim and why victims of abuse so often remain quiet—how the cycle unfolds and continues to spiral, sometimes out of control. Maybe because he’s entering Middle School next year, and he’s hearing a lot about bullying, he’s sharing some growing concern about the issue. He’s wondering what it looks like, what he’d do, why people act in certain ways, and who’s at fault.

There are so many ways that people bully one another, many being so subtle that it can often take a panel of experts to decide whether certain behavior constitutes. There’s physical bullying—aggressive types of bullying. There are threats to physical safety, threats to emotional or psychological well-being. There is teasing, name-calling, taunting behavior. There is the type of bullying used to belittle someone—to cause them to feel left out, singled out, or hearing untrue rumors about themselves. There are devastating impacts from cyber-bullying these days!  bullying-research-image

Ultimately, bullying means there is a difference, or a perceived difference, in power. When one person seems to have power over another, and uses that power to cause harm—that’s bullying.

I gave an example of one boy bullying another, and the victim doing everything in his power to stop the bullying—talking, practicing compassion, setting boundaries, using defensive force, and even using humor—and eventually needing someone to help him advocate for himself, if the person bullying just won’t stop. Often, even if the kid being bullied gives fair warning, a “bully” will often respond with, “go ahead and tell. I don’t care if I get into trouble,” all the while, possibly feeling “above or beyond” the rules—or subconsciously trying to get the attention he desperately needs. So the kid finally tells an adult—someone who can set more effective boundaries and provide stronger consequences that hopefully make a difference for both kids.

And what does the person bullying do? He blames the victim for being a tattle-tale, a wimp. He externalizes any responsibility (most often, right?) and blames, even when he had every opportunity to change the behavior. And in his mind, this is the truth—it is the fault of the other kid, or the teacher, or the school… but never his—he simply can’t see it. And he convinces others that the other kid is the one at fault, and sometimes (oftentimes) his parents will enable the behavior and belief. And so the cycle goes…

…And children who are not held accountable grow up to be adults who believe they can do no wrong.

And the other kid? Hopefully he has enough emotional support to buoy his belief that he is not the one to blame and that standing up for himself was the right thing to do, and that sometimes we all need support—we need people to advocate for us when there is an imbalance in power. Sadly, this is often not the case—we have way too many kiddos, and subsequently adults who raise more kiddos, who feel safer simply keeping their mouths shut.

Why does this happen? Why don’t victims of such abuse get both the advocacy and the support they need? Similarly, this is a common scenario in adult relationships—both with domestic violence as well as more subtle types of abuse—“bullying.” The following article in Psychology Today mailto:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201311/why-do-we-blame-victims theorizes that it’s against our natural tendency to support the victims of such behavior because we fear letting go of our attachment to the belief that the world is safe. We prefer to believe that bad things happen to bad people, and we get what we deserve.  Holding these beliefs helps us to avoid the vulnerability that would come from true empathy. If bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them, they can happen to us as well.

Now this is an area I’ve struggled—for years, I struggled to acknowledge victims, even myself when I’ve been victimized. In fact, I’ve explored the extremes of this victim pendulum well! After recognizing that I spent much of my life as a victim, I formed a reactive defense, wanting to believe that we each have ultimate control of our lives. It used to really irk me when someone in a “victim position” actually claimed to be a victim, because I wanted them to acknowledge their own power and, therefore, a solution to the problem, because that allowed me to believe “I” was all I needed for solutions to my own problems. Of course this was my own way of avoiding vulnerability.

2121754867_745c975b98_mI continue to explore the balance between victimization and personal power, being a relationship therapist who does a lot of work around our primary issues being systemic and “relational” rather than solely “personal.” I support people in looking not at what their partners are doing wrong, but how they are responding because even when our partners make the worst of mistakes, it is our ability to respond effectively that sets us up for relationship success.

…And that’s another post!

This PT article asserts that our avoidance of vulnerability to others’ suffering comes with a deeper cost—that we are less able to empathize, less able to feel true compassion for others because of our own fear.

I want to add to this theory. If we actually look at the “wrong” that someone has done…. And we look deeply, we also become vulnerable to looking at some reflection of ourselves. Example: If we honestly look at a child who is bullying, we often look at the parents who’ve potentially taught, enabled, and modeled a way of being in the world to that child; we may also look at the school system that hasn’t provided safety, and we can’t help but look at a society that hasn’t provided enough community, support, and love. Ultimately, we look at our part in that society, if we are willing. To acknowledge the entire system that supports bullying—that supports abuse—we must look at ourselves. And that’s really uncomfortable for most of us.

When friends and family remain neutral about abuse or bullying, saying “it was both people at fault,” they deny the needed life lesson of the perpetrator, colluding with him or her, and they also make it less likely that the victim of abuse will reach out for support. This is one form of “enabling.” When we take the easy road, seeing both people as equally culpable, we not only continue to enable abuse, but we support the avoidance of accountability that we each need to hold.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about issues where each person truly holds equal responsibility and both are blaming one another, which can be very confusing. I’m talking about actual abuse—where there is a consistent pattern and a disparity in power; whether physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological—and I’m talking about both children and adults. There is a big difference here in areas where we “claim victimhood,” and where people are truly victims. Both are real. Both are worth our time.

Nathaniel and my discussion ended in the shared belief that it is all of our responsibility to acknowledge where and how abuse and bullying manifest, and to step into the vulnerability of acknowledging our part in it either continuing or ending.

I feel grateful for the privilege of sharing these dialogues with this very wise soul! And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie

 

 

Parenting… Good Enough

I remember the first (and possibly only) time I ever heard my mom swear. It was the word, “shit.” And it was directed right at me. I’ll never forget the level of annoyance and disbelief that crossed her face, to the point where she just couldn’t contain it anymore. “You little shit,” she said. And while I have no recollection of exactly what I’d done, I knew that I was being just that—a shit. And I’d pushed her to her edge.

Which apparently was an area I had a good amount of skill.

My mom has never been someone who lost control, who yelled and screamed, who expressed anger like the other people in my family. Maybe it was the Greek blood in the rest of us. I knew angry outbursts—but not from my Mom. But that day, she’d had it. And I deserved it.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve had it as a Mom. I feel that twinge of fear—the “I must be failing as a parent” fear that wrecks me because honestly, since the moment that my son was born almost 12 years ago, my identity has become absolutely attached to being “Mom.” And when most of us feel fear, to the point where it literally “hijacks” our brains, we do everything we can to protect our created realities—our identities, as if our survival depends on it.

Tonight was one of those nights.  And just like me, my kids are damn good at pushing me to my edge.  (My mom warned me about that!)

It’s as if on the nights when I am so excited to just hang out with my kiddos, plan a great dinner, know that we have some simple play and relaxation time, and that’s everything I want… those are the nights when all hell breaks loose and I lose my grasp on my lovely vision of motherhood.

Now here’s where I’ll share that I’m with the rest of you who wonders how much reality exists in social media. I know that what I share—my pictures and posts, especially of parenting—are of the moments that I want to cherish. They’re the moments that get me all soft and, honestly, a little bit like “wow, what a great Mom am I!” And then I get a swift kick in the ass like tonight and I realize that all I can hope for, and work for, is “good enough.”

I’ll also share openly that it’s during nights like tonight when I truly miss having a parenting partner. Single parenting is… well, like an entirely different, life-changing adventure.

We’re wired to do this dance together. It’s sometimes only our kiddos other parent who really gets the unique way that our kids push us to our edge, when all we need is that “I’m done” look to the other, and it’s as if we immediately have our stunt double to take over. In this solo dance… we look sideways for someone to step in and give a reprieve, and realize that when we feel we’re at our edge, our only hope is to stretch even further into the resource of who we are, to manage whatever has taken over the system. And it can feel virtually impossible at times.

Now I’ll be honest, I think my kids are perfect! Perfectly imperfect—exactly how they were created. I believe that their natures are kind and good, and that they are beautiful, wonderful, and innately brilliant in their unique ways.  And I think that they get off track sometimes, and as their Mom, it’s my job to help them get back on—sometimes simply to hang out with them where they are and trust the bigger love that is holding them, to get them back on.

Sometimes when I see my kids have wandered off too far, I think, “yep, that’s normal kid stuff. It’s going to happen,” and I can calmly reflect what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling, and that’s all that’s needed. They feel held and loved regardless, they are okay being “seen,” and are able to recognize what needs to change, and all is good.

Other times, like today, I calmly reflect, and I hear defensiveness and blame and excuses and dishonesty, all sorts of things that trigger this grinding in my heart, and I’m guessing they sense that. And my brain gets a little caught, and I’m not the mindful, centered Mama, but a triggered, fearful woman who’s quickly losing her skills, and searching for a rope to grab ahold of, and flailing.

And tonight… after flailing, I sat at my dinner table alone, looking down at a lovely dinner, while both my children were in their bedrooms crying.  And I had a little “whoa is me” moment, while the old adage, Mothering—the most thankless job, came into my head, and I thought, “No—there’s a deeper Gratitude in the world for Moms, and Dads—parents who are pushing past the edges of who they’ve known themselves to be because they love their kids to the ends of the earth.

Life asks us to stretch into more capable, more tolerant, more vulnerable versions of ourselves when we step into parenting. And if we can do that, Life will thank us. I fully trust that.  And wow, sometimes that’s just about the most difficult task there is.

Ultimately, my kids joined me for dinner and, later, after a quiet, somewhat tense evening, we talked, and cried a little, and watched Brené Brown’s TedTalk on Vulnerability. Honestly, it’s all I had left, and I felt like she’d share it better than I would.   And while some of it was probably over my seven-year-olds head, my son got it—and it was exactly what they needed to hear. They needed to hear—maybe from someone other than me—that it’s their willingness to share all of themselves, and to be seen, even when they mess up, to be compassionate—first and foremost toward themselves—and to believe they are worthy of immense love, that will allow them to actually feel love deeply.

Something began to heal what had been a really painful experience between us tonight. Shared understanding maybe. Willingness to allow ourselves to be imperfect and still worthy of love—for my kids to get that they can’t “earn” my love—nor can they un-earn it. It’s as present as the sun and has nothing to do with how they act or behave, or what they accomplish, or how often life gets messy between us. It just is.

So I’m doing it—this parenting thing, I’d say about good enough…

And tonight, I’m wiped!

Nate-cherish

For the Love of Your Life!

 

 

Goodbye to Our Sandstone Home

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The Grand fort building that often took over this room!

Here I sit in my living room. The “Great Room,” actually…. Probably the only home I’ll ever live in that will be grand enough to have a room called a great room! And next week, another family will be here, sitting, looking around, enjoying the space—living their lives. Knowing nothing of the lives that have been lived within these walls for the past 15 years.

I want… and need to acknowledge this moment. While I have felt “ready” for way too long, I don’t want this opportunity for conscious closure to slip by without recognition. I want to be sure to feel the ending, to fully experience the transition of closing this chapter so that I can fully step into the next.

And what a chapter this has been…

So much about this home I have loved. First off, that it was the first place that my babies knew as home. It was the space I watched them explore the newness of life and love and relationship. It’s been the space that’s given them room to become who they are thus far. This has been a home that has captured so much laughter, so much play—the dancing and games and parties and shared time that this house has held—what memories!

The walls of my children’s rooms have held so many hours and hours of story telling, books, cuddle time, and long talks. The basement has been home to the kids learning about training our bodies—they’ve been immersed in it, with a huge home gym. They’ve had movie parties with friends in the theater, and slumber parties and sleepovers and play dates that will never be forgotten. We truly have been blessed to live in this amazing space.Papou

We’ve loved the beautiful, spacious kitchen where we’ve enjoyed cooking for friends and family—where my children have learned to bake and learned about their Greek origins, helping Mama, and

home4their Yia yia and Papou with all sorts of Greek dishes. We will miss the joy and love that has been shared in this kitchen, and look forward to bringing that same joy and love into the next.  cooking1

 

 

 

My garden has been my safe haven for the past four years.   It has been my place where nourishing my family through tending the soil has saved me at times—has given me a sense of calm in the storm, has connected me to my roots—particularly to my Dad, and has connected me to what sustains. I pray that the family who lives here will gain as much from digging their hands into the soil as I have. I hope that the children learn to love planting and harvesting and digging for worms.
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home3The friends who’ve shared in our lives here continue to share in the transition, and deepen my experience of holding all that blessed this space. Amazing people who are a part of each of us.

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And there has been a lot of sadness too. There has been heartache and suffering of people not knowing how to love well enough, and children yearning for a certain stability that never fully came—who saw too much anger and too many tears to feel completely safe.

That breaks my heart and is a truth I hold tenderly, and will consistently work to repair.

This is the only home we’ve known as a family. This space has become part of our identity, and much of it difficult to let go. And I pray that our memories will continue to be cherished—the lives we have lived thus far between these walls will forever be part of our foundation, part of who we are, and what we will bring to our new home.

The time of transition has finally come, too long after it was needed. I see the final pieces being moved out, furniture broken down and stored, walls and carpets bare, the space becoming emptier and emptier—there’s a quiet now that, honestly, seems louder than anything this space has ever held.

And finally the tears come. Now I can weep at all that is being lost and let go. Now that it is so real, that my body, even, is experiencing the stillness—the lack of “us” here, now I can say my final goodbye to all that was, and was not.N&L

My children feel this ending—are beginning to experience the poignancy of what it means. They are expressing the sadness that comes with awareness and truth. Their reality still not completely stable, and they desperately need to rest in the comfort of something known. “Not quite yet,” I say, “but so soon. And it will be so nice, the newness and freedom.” And I believe it will be. This is a welcome transition—and yet welcome does not negate pain.

And for now, we need to simply be with the ending. We need to share gratitude for all that we have experienced here and all of the memories we can continue to hold. We need to say goodbye—to bless these rooms, the memories we’ve made here, and bless the space that will become a safe haven for a new family to grow and become.

May this house—this home—inspire LOVE to flourish. May it provide safety and security and warmth. May it be a place where adventure and dreams are realized, and where relationships deepen. While we know that a house does not make a home—that our home will be where we share our lives together as a family—may this become a wonderful home for a new family.

So many blessings,

Angie, Nathaniel, and Lilly

Us

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie