What is radical recovery? For two months I have been interviewing an amazing group of thought leaders and innovators involved in the field of addiction and recovery. A common theme is that trauma underlies addiction. “The real calamity of trauma is that we lose connection with ourselves.” (A.H. Almaas)
Yesterday I interviewed Dr. Gabor Maté and he asked me a question about my own addiction. For me it was drugs and alcohol and food starting when I was 12. Drugs and alcohol were sporadically available and I went for it every chance I had. Ice cream was always available and was part of a refuge for me during my teen years. The drugs and alcohol fell away by my mid 20s, in part because the payback from my body got to be too much. Vomiting a few times at the end of a night of drinking was okay. A few nights of vomiting for 3 or 4 hours straight finally scared me enough to stop.
Food has gone up and down through the years. It has been a comfort and a way to numb fear and discomfort. I have gone many years without abusing food only to have disordered eating come back during times of extreme pressure and stress. Most recently that was in 2004 when my son was misdiagnosed with an aggressive cancer and 2005 when I was physically assaulted riding my bicycle to work and I developed PTSD. The waves are nowhere near as extreme now but it has not gone away as a go-to strategy. I am in recovery from binge-eating disorder. I would not say that I am recovered.
One thing that is consistent through the interviews about recovery is that we are not meant to live alone. I mean that not in the sense of who lives in our home but who lives in our hearts and who we connect with daily. I do have a rich life of connection. I am also still isolated in some ways and I continue to work with that. Those of us who have been hurt and traumatized by other people have a difficult time trusting. This widespread mistrust is at the root of much suffering and isolation. Yet somehow we must find our way to connection with other people. When I am connected with safe people, I have no desire to eat addictively.
Each of us can reach out, perhaps in small ways at first. Find low risk ways to connect with other people.We need reparative safe experiences with other people to know that people can be safe. This doesn’t counter-act our previous known truth. It adds new possibilities to it. We are not doomed to our past.
Music is part of this for me. Two years ago I joined a concert band for people over 50 and began playing my flute again. I used to love playing and I stopped in my late teens due to trauma. Reclaiming music feels amazing, especially as this time I am learning jazz and taking the risk of improvising in public. In a band, we play together!
Another practice I have been doing is to look around me when I am out walking and notice if people are actually a threat. This is helpful because I experienced so much shaming and isolation as a teenager. I had no idea at the time how damaging and long lasting those experiences were and the beliefs I formed at that time. That people were unsafe. That people would hurt me. That no one would save me or even notice I needed help. Experience like that very understandably leads to the belief that we are not safe with people.
The results of long-term research on happiness is clear. We need each other. Children need safe, consistent care and protection. We live in a society saturated with trauma. We live in a society with rampant addiction to cope with the disconnection and trauma experienced as children and through our lives.
We cannot un-know what we know to be true. We have experienced not being safe with other people. We need to experience safety many more times to learn in our very cells that we are part of the human family. That it is safe to connect with other people. That it is safe to go inside and really know and love ourselves. To trust ourselves. To be present with ourselves. To be kind and compassionate and to connect within.
Every day at 8 AM Eastern I connect online with a group of people to breathe, relax, meditate, and rest together. Sometimes we do an inquiry. Sometimes we talk after and sometimes we finish the practice in silence and go about our day. This time with other people has become so important to me. It is low risk socially and perhaps it is a way you could reach out and connect. You are welcome to join us. You can have your video off or on. We are creating a place of safety with other people, and doing the very important work of becoming safe for ourselves.
It takes courage to be present and kind with ourselves and it absolutely is possible. It is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and to others. To the world. We cannot heal ourselves alone. Healing ourselves is something safe to do with other people. It is also true that not everyone is safe to be with. There are people who will still hurt us and there are people who will care for us and who are safe. We can be that for each other. We can be that for ourselves. Calm, present, trustworthy, kind. As we experience that it is safe to attend within and that we are able to be kind to ourselves, we begin to feel safe enough to reach out and connect with other people.
Join me. Begin to reach out in small ways, in low risk settings, and allow yourself to be rewired for social trust and connection. This is at the very root of recovery.
We have a practice in the Living Inquiries of using the thank-you phrases as a way of turning toward our experience. As dysfunctional as some of our patterns may be, they have all been for a reason. Many of them are to protect us. We needed that at some point in our lives. Is it possible that now as an adult we can resource ourselves in healthier ways? We do not have to push away or denigrate ourselves for how we survived to this point. We can honour our protective mechanisms even as we let them go.
Radical recovery means to connect again. It means to end the isolation we have felt was necessary for our survival. It means to find a way and find some people who are safe to connect with. This is possible for us all.