Personal Growth in Recovery
Table of Contents
By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.
Personal Growth and Accepting Anger
Too often in today’s society, we are asked to suppress or deny our anger. Concepts like the power of positive thinking and manifesting our reality can work to steer us away from fully feeling and expressing our anger. Moreover, they may imply and impose upon us a dangerous level of guilt and shame for desiring to do so. The latter is something we likely already acquired in ample supply from our days in active addiction or dysfunction. Besides, where guilt and shame serve only to hurt us, anger can actually help us heal.1
The Gift of Anger
Anger is often a demonized emotion. Many people fear it, not knowing how to appropriately confront, express or release it. Some simply try to deny or dismiss it. However, the vast majority of people—in active addiction, recovering or not—simply believe it to be a state of victimization. Even some specialists within the addiction treatment field see anger as a result of a lack of gratitude or an emotional expression of self-pity.
Learning to Allow and Accept Anger
However, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to feel and express anger while simultaneously maintaining a sense of gratitude. But the awareness of lessons learned and the ability to see a silver lining does not negate the justification for anger. Moreover, to deny ourselves or anyone else the right to feel and express it is to engage in oppressive recovery—the opposite of helping and a setup for relapse.
Truthfully, anger is indeed a gift. It is an internal alarm that loudly sounds when personal boundaries have been repeatedly crossed or disrespected. Anger amplifies our voice when we desperately need to speak and be heard and wakes us from a potentially holistically comatose state. Additionally, it is a normal, expected, and necessary stage of grief, personal growth, and healing.
As such, it is vital to successful recovery for individuals and helping professionals to learn to allow and accept the gift of anger within ourselves and others. After all, it is not anger that destroys us or causes us to relapse. But, in fact, the suppression of it can easily do both.
Addressing Distortion and Denial for Personal Growth in Recovery
Individuals with active addiction often become very defensive when confronted—even carefully—about their drinking or drug problem. In fact, many react with extreme emotional outbursts, as though someone has threatened their best friend or a beloved family member. The truth is, to an active addict, anyone attempting to confront the reality of their addiction is in fact bullying their closest friend.
An active addict’s drug of choice is not simply a substance. From their perspective, it is their security. The relationship they develop with drugs or alcohol becomes their most intimate and valued one. Therefore, people in their lives who were once cherished begin to feel abandoned and betrayed, as if they have been replaced by drugs or alcohol. Indeed, they have.
Unfortunately, if friends, family members or significant others voice these feelings, thoughts or experiences regarding this reality or attempt to rescue the individual from the throes of active addiction, they are typically met with varying degrees of denial and distortion.2 These defense mechanisms usually present with the active addict’s efforts to;
- deny a problem with drugs or alcohol,
- dismiss any expressed pain or suffering caused by the abuse of these substances,
- accuse those confronting the addiction of wrongful behavior,
- shift blame and accountability to the intervening individuals,
- manipulate said individuals with victimization, excuses and verbal expressions of martyrdom and self-pity.
These behaviors work to defend active addiction by denying its existence and distorting the reality of its destructive nature. Ultimately, the combined forces of denial and distortion—as presented in the bulletin points—create a chaotic maze of the active addict’s circular logic and the loved one’s dizzying cycles of repeated attempts to communicate concern. The latter continually gets stonewalled and eventually shut down. The well-orchestrated topsy-turvy outcome serves to distract and dissuade everyone from their attempts to confront the active addiction in the first place.
In short, the process of confronting active addiction can be crazy-making. Moreover, to attempt to address it repeatedly is the definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It is both a setup for and a characteristic of codependency.
The Truth About Active Addiction’s Most Powerful Bodyguards
That is the very reason denial and distortion are indeed addiction’s most powerful bodyguards. They not only work to protect the addictive substances and addiction itself. They also formulate such an insane, dysfunctional experience that those who become concerned and wish to interfere or intervene are forced to either maladapt and become increasingly codependent—a condition which requires recovery as well—or back off and simply let go.
Though the latter is always easier said than done, it is the necessary step each concerned individual must take in an effort to protect their own sanity and overall wellness. Aside from an organized intervention in which at least one helping professional is present to facilitate and mediate, there is nothing more that can be done to save an active addict from themselves. To prevent becoming an enabling part of the problem or an enmeshed piece of the dysfunction, loved ones must quickly employ their own empowering entourage; detachment and disengagement.
Personal Growth in Recovery is About Progress, Not Perfection
Perfection is something for which many people strive. Yet, perfectionism is—ironically—a factor in active addiction and, for those of us in recovery, can easily lead to relapse. Why? Because the driving urge to achieve perfection is the equivalent of trying to please everyone, everywhere, at the same time. It proves disappointing to everyone—namely, ourselves—and ultimately leads to dysfunction.
Perfectionism manifests in many forms and varying degrees, but can invade our minds and distort our self-perceptions to damaging and detrimental extremes.3 Any perverse demand of perfection placed upon us by others—including but not limited to our parents—potentially leads to addiction and other forms of mental illness. To impose perfectionism on ourselves has equally devastating consequences, as well.
Unfortunately, many of us arrive in recovery thinking we have to do recovery, perfectly. But perfect recovery doesn’t exist. In fact, even successful recovery is not about perfection. It’s about progress—daily progress. That’s why we hear handfuls of wisdom which reiterate that point; “One day at a time,” “Keep it simple,” “Keep coming back. It works, if you work it,” and so on. These phrases were devised by recovering addicts and alcoholics who likely struggled with perfectionism and—more significantly—the guilt and shame that followed anything less than perfect.
Guilt and shame result in pain which, without healthy coping skills, cycle us into negative behaviors and consequences. They are our worst enemies in recovery, and they are the spawn of perfectionism. And, in order to achieve success in recovery, we must break our own cycle of pain by denouncing the desire to be perfect and, instead, simply aspire to make progress.
Whether the steps are baby steps or giant leaps, recovery requires only that we focus on our forward movement, rather than the steps we will—no doubt—take backward. We are addicts. Yes. But, we are in recovery, which means we are healing, and it is a process; not an overnight procedure. Besides, we cannot forget, underneath our disease, we are also human.
Finding Peace and Joy for Personal Growth in Recovery
Almost every holiday song, greeting card and festive, seasonal sentiment we hear or see, this time of year, mentions peace and joy. The two have seemingly become synonymous with the holiday season. Of course, no one can argue the collective desire to experience both, at least once a year. But do we really have to wait until December to make peace and joy our focus?
The answer is a resounding no.
Those of us in recovery for addiction, codependency, ACOA, and more are aware of the chaos and misery behind us. We know the self-orchestrated drama, heartache and failure tied to active addiction and dysfunction. And, though we had a glimmer of hope, the holidays never saved us. In fact, they typically became opportunities for more victimization, manipulation and self-sabotage.
Recovery, on the other hand, has given us chances to understand and experience serenity—inner peace and joy—on a daily basis. We have learned and are continuing to acquire life skills and coping mechanisms that grow us, rather than stunting our personal development and thwarting our success. And, as a result, we can face the holiday season, better equipped to deal with our own ghosts of Christmas past.
So, maybe it’s time we extend the holiday sentiment of peace and joy far past December. Perhaps we—in recovery—need to encourage each other to experience these terms as states of being, rather than simply fleeting emotions. That isn’t to say we should learn to wrap our daily struggle and pain in holiday lights—so to speak—and pretend all is right with the world. In fact, just the opposite.
Rather than rescuing ourselves with happy holiday tunes and the bells and whistles of Christmas—or any other day—we should learn to sit with our pain, peacefully and joyfully. More to the point, we must become comfortable in the silent nights, befriend and fall in love with ourselves—everything about us. The good. The bad. The ugly. And, when we do, we will know—continuously and consistently—the true meaning and experience of peace and joy.
20 Gifts to Give Yourself for Personal Growth in Recovery
The holiday season usually has us racking our brains to think of the best gifts to give our loved ones. But what about ourselves? Aren’t we our loved ones too? We certainly should be. In fact, that is a very important aspect of successful recovery—loving and honoring ourselves.
Many in recovery are in the process of not only discovering and respecting their personal adult needs, but also those of their inner child. Much of that newfound journey is the result of being forced to grow up too fast. For some, the need to do so may simply originate from a lack of nurturing in childhood. Regardless of the reason, focusing on the child within us is an excellent addition to our recovery regimen.
So, this year, add yourself—the adult and child version—to your holiday gift list. Here are 20 suggestions, for those of us who find even ourselves difficult to shop for:
- Long walk
- Spa day
- Time with a dear friend
- One hour of silence
- Nap time
- Trip to the toy store
- Hot cocoa
- Cartoons and holiday specials
- Coloring book
- Toys—whatever you like
- Jigsaw puzzle
- Paint by number set
- Board games
- Teddy bear
- Cozy slippers
- Fluffy blanket
- Adult onesie
- Tour of holiday lighting
- Visit with Santa
Whatever you choose to do, whether it is listed here or not, give yourself something special this holiday season. It’s not like it will be the first time. Recovery is one of the greatest gifts you have already given yourself and your inner child—even if the latter is not your chosen path. But it shouldn’t be the last gift you receive from you. And, for the record, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a heartfelt card too.
5 Ways to Love Yourself Today for Personal Growth
Contrary to what some believe, self-love does not equate to selfishness. In fact, learning to love oneself often prevents it. After all, to fully love others, one must first love oneself.
With regard to active addiction, love of self is typically completely lacking. The reasons vary, but the reality is the same and it is one of chronic self-sabotage. In other words, active addiction is a means of self-destruction, not an exhibition of self-love.
For these individuals, making a decision to seek help is the first step toward self-preservation and self-love. And, for the record, since active addiction is the acute situation, that particular step is most vital. It must be taken before any other efforts toward self-care or love of self can be employed.
That said, once treatment for active addiction is sought, the biggest and hardest step has been taken. As such, those in active recovery have already moved from a place of self-destruction to one of self-care.4 And, with that in mind, congratulations and a moment to reflect on that uplifting reality are in order.
But, as we know, the journey doesn’t end there.
For that reason, it is important to find ways to continue to practice self-love throughout recovery. Love of self is vital to relapse prevention and key to successful relationships, as well as holistic wellness. And, as with recovery, the practice of self-love is one we can employ one day at a time.
Let the first day be today by employing these five ways to love yourself:
Get rest and relaxation. Sleep is necessary for holistic health. Physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health rely on rest and plenty of it. Relaxation is also key to overall wellness. As such, making sure you get a good night’s rest (ideally, 8 hours) or find time to nap in an effort to compensate for any sleep lost due to situations out of your control is first on the to-do list. Finding ways to relax—taking a hot bath, going for a walk, yoga and meditation, etc.—throughout the day needs to accompany this step, as relaxation leads to a restful mind and body.
Take time for mental health. Whether you can afford to take the day completely off—no school, no work, no appointments of any kind—and enjoy a mental health day, or simply find an hour to devote to doing nothing, it is necessary to take time to let your mind unwind. Zoning out to music, watching a beloved movie, reading a book, etc., are all great options for “vegging out” and giving yourself a break from the stressors of everyday life.
Get moving. Exercise gets the blood flowing, stagnate energy moving and endorphins kicking in. All of the above are vital to overall wellness. It keeps you physically healthy and typically makes you feel better about yourself, all while relieving stress and promoting relaxation. Additionally, exercise is prevents and effectively helps reduce depression and provides a great distraction when and if cravings become an issue.
However, as with anything else, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Distraction is a temporary fix, not a permanent solution. As such, remember; the purpose of exercising is to maintain holistic health as a practice of self-love, not self-destruction. If you’re reasoning is based on self-loathing or insecurities, be sure to address this with a helping professional. Exercise bulimia is a dangerous reality and should not be taken lightly.
Get moving, but don’t get a substitute addiction.
Feed your body and mind. Food is necessary for survival. Healthy food is vital for quality of life. Making the time to prepare or acquire a healthy meal, at least three times a day, with healthy snacks throughout the day improves if not ensures physical and mental health.
Food for thought is also necessary, especially with regard to successful recovery. Employing daily affirmations, positive quotes and so on at the start or end of the day is a great way to feed the mind and nurture the self.
Get quiet. Quiet time is something we needed as children, and that does not change when we become adults. Getting quiet means turning off all background noise—no tv, radio, computer, video games. Nothing. Complete silence. Whether you choose to get quiet via the practice of meditation at a local yoga studio or decide to do so by simply sitting in the silence of your own home, finding ways to get quiet offers opportunities to sit with, face and lovingly embrace yourself.
These five steps don’t require much extra effort. Sleeping and eating is something we should already be doing, so employing the proper amount and method should be simple enough. However, if there is resistance to any of the above, that is not an abnormal experience. If self-love came naturally to us, addiction would have never been an issue.
The truth is self-love is not easy for the majority of individuals, mainly because it is not something we are taught. It’s something we generally have to teach ourselves. And, more to the point, it requires us to be our own best parent—setting boundaries and instilling norms and expectations we don’t always initially like. But, as with our need to access treatment and get recovery, the need to further our journey of self-love is a reality and one we will find gets easier and more fulfilling as we move along.