Love Thyself: Cupid’s Reminder for Individuals in Recovery

By | Life in Recovery | No Comments

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

February is typically seen as the month of love due to—of course—Valentine’s Day. But not everyone highlights or even recognizes the Hallmark holiday. In fact, many people seem to begrudge it. Even lovers often find it counterproductive in that the hype of the day puts pressure and unreasonable expectations on couples. The latter typically leads to a great deal of disappointment for one or both parties.

Consequently, all too often, couples and singles refuse to make much ado of the day. In fact, various Anti-Valentine’s Day events are often held at venues and private residents in opposition of the holiday. This reality seems unfortunate to some who find the day filled with optimism—an opportunity to spread love and light to others, regardless of relationship status.

For these positive thinkers, the month of February and Valentine’s Day, itself, is not merely confined to romantic love. Friends and family members also become recipients of gifts of endearment and celebrations of love. And, these optimists—who typically shower the world with love every day—usually make it a point to remind others that February 14th shouldn’t be the only day such gifts and celebrations are shared.

Well, we in recovery must take that final notion a step further. It is not merely a love for others that should extend far past the month of February and ideally include all the days of the year. Love for the self must also be a daily priority. In fact, self-love is not only necessary for the purposes of practicing love of others; it is vital to successful recovery. And, quite frankly, it is the lack of it that spurred our active addiction.

Becoming an addict is a holistic process. In other words, our entire being—body, mind and spirit—is involved and affected. The chemical dependency resulting from the changing chemistry in our brains brought about by our use of substances, the toxic thinking, victimization and shame that perpetuates the cycle of pain and our overactive egos which take over the spiritual aspect of our being combine to create the Hell in which we soon find ourselves residing. Yet, the element most lacking from the time we began self-destructing to the day we found ourselves spinning out of control is self-love.

Though love of the self hasn’t been studied and therefore proven to cure the disease of addiction, it certainly forces us to take that first step of admitting we have a problem bigger than ourselves. Of course, some might argue that rock bottom does that. And, yes. It does. But a continued lack of self-love—in this author’s opinion—explains why rock bottom is six feet under for far too many.

If you’re struggling—whether in active addiction or recovery—there is help. There are people who know the pain from experience and they truly want to help. Love yourself enough to get help today. Call our hotline: 1-844-6-GETHELP.

Peace and Joy in Recovery

By | Life in Recovery, Tis the Season | No Comments

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

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.

The Perversion of Parenting and Its Role in Addiction & Recovery

By | Addiction and Recovery, Life in Recovery, Parenting | No Comments

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

When parents have children, they want nothing more than to see those children happy. They want to give them everything—all the things they never had. Somehow, they come to believe a happy child is a healthy child. But they’re wrong.

Dr. Carl Andersen, founder of the Center for the Study of Addiction & Recovery at Texas Tech University, once stated, “The perversion of parenting is to believe it is your job to raise a happy child. No. That is not your job. Your job as a parent is to launch a healthy adult.”

Though he was speaking to a classroom filled with college students in recovery—myself included—most of whom did not have children, his point was not lost on us. We all knew that somewhere in our past, someone—one or both of our parents—had worked very hard to keep us happy and therefore unwittingly denied us the consequences that might have kept us healthy. In essence, they nearly literally loved us to death.

It’s the most common form of enabling—parents doing everything in their power to keep their children from hurting and being a best friend, rather than a parent. In the moment, it looks and feels like love. But enabling—as Dr. Andersen also says—is not love. In fact, it’s anti-love. With regard to addiction, enabling keeps us sick by preventing us from hitting rock bottom—the low place we need to be in order to realize we need help.

Keeping us from facing consequences and financially funding our every want and need keeps us happy, indeed. But it also keeps us children, permanently. We never grow up. This perversion of parenting is the failure of parenting, and it’s a breeding ground for dysfunction.

Though it may not be completely to blame for addiction, the perversion of parenting is suspect in relapse and an accessory to the disease. It keeps us from developing accountability, breeds a sense of entitlement and a lack of humility—the cornerstone of successful recovery.

It’s About Progress, Not Perfection

By | Life in Recovery, Progress | No Comments

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

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. 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.

5 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness

By | Life in Recovery, Mindfulness | No Comments

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

“Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment.” – Stahl & Goldstein, 2010. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.

Because addiction is a mental illness riddled with self-sabotaging defense mechanisms used to distract from, escape and avoid the present moment, learning to sit with feelings and experiences is crucial to successful recovery. In fact, therapeutic practices in recovery – i.e., individual counseling, process groups, couples and family counseling – require individuals to sit with surfacing emotions, cognitions and past experiences in an effort to heal.

Mindfulness is a practice which extends that therapeutic experience – being fully present – from a one-hour session to a lifelong application. The benefits are numerous, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll highlight five:

  1. Sit. Stay. Heal. – It may sound like commands for a canine companion, but in fact it is the unofficial mantra for mindfulness. Sit with yourself – your pain, feelings, thoughts and experiences. Stay with the moment. Heal from the wounds – self-inflicted or otherwise. Healing is recovery.
  2. Judgment-free zone. – Mindfulness is a practice; not a punishment. There is no judgment. The latter is a vital aspect of recovery, since guilt and shame play a devastating part in active addiction. If you find your mind wandering outside the moment, don’t criticize yourself. Just breathe, and come back to the present moment. It’s about progress; not perfection.
  3. No filter. – Like a selfie with no enhancements, you wipe your mind free of filters. Keep it simple. Simply see yourself and others as human – sharing the same life experience with unique circumstances and coping mechanisms, but all fallible and in need of love and understanding.
  4. Serenity now. – Active addiction is chaos. Mindfulness is a practice in peace.
  5. One moment at a time. – Getting caught up in the “what if’s” typically leads to relapse, which is why 12-Step programs reiterate one day at a time. Mindfulness focuses only on the moment. You are sober in this moment. Stay with that.

As grateful as we are for it, we are all aware recovery can be a very scary and trying experience, especially in the beginning of the journey. There are always obstacles; personal and otherwise. Consequently, there are triggers. Without the proper support and tools to assist us, it is difficult to succeed and avoid relapse. Accessing support and daily practices, like mindfulness, is one beneficial way to empower ourselves on our individual journeys to successful recovery.

3 Struggles Unique to the Adult Children of Alcoholics

By | Adult Children of Addicts and Alcoholics, Life in Recovery | No Comments

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

Children, regardless of circumstance, face numerous challenges. Adults from all walks of life present with issues resulting from various situations survived in childhood—i.e., bullying, single parent, divorce, pre-mature death of a parent, etc. As such, in many ways life is a struggle for everyone.

However, growing up in an alcoholic home presents greater obstacles. Marked by inconsistency, role reversals, lacking boundaries and at the very least emotional neglect—simply termed as chaotic—the experience of a child of an alcoholic is quite devastating. The dysfunctional behavior witnessed and learned negatively affects these individuals well into adulthood and present unique challenges on their journey to recovery.

Although adult children of alcoholics may report varying degrees of negative experiences—ranging from extreme violence, abuse or neglect to embarrassment associated with witnessing the public intoxication of a parent—there are at least three universal struggles unique to adult children of alcoholics and pertinent to understanding the needs of ACOAs in recovery:

  1. No childhood – Children of alcoholics are not allowed to be a child due to the experience of role reversal. They are forced to grow up fast and take on the responsibility of parenting themselves, as well as any siblings and typically the alcoholic parent. This experience generally results in an inability to take life less seriously in adulthood. They don’t know how to be silly or just have fun. They become over-responsible in work, relationships and other important aspects of their lives—a reality which typically progresses into codependency. Conversely, some overcompensate for the loss of childhood and act as children in adulthood, denying all adult responsibilities and refusing to grow up.
  2. Grieving a living parent – Children of alcoholics don’t get the joy of experiencing their alcoholic parent as simply a mother or father. For all intents and purposes, the alcoholic parent is absent in their childhood. So they spend their lives moving through the grief process, often times getting stuck in one or more of the four stages preceding acceptance; denial, anger/blame, bargaining or depression.
  3. Assigned identity through mal-adaptation – ACOA’s personalities are not as they might have been without the influence of an active alcoholic parent. Childhood mal-adaptation via dysfunctional family roles—i.e., hero, mascot, lost child and scapegoat—forms the child’s characteristics and typically results in identity crisis in adulthood.