David B. Bohl is a relinquishee and adoptee, a professional independent addiction and recovery consultant, and a former consumer of substance use disorder and mental health services. He’s also the author of Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, a memoir that chronicles the intersection of adoption and addiction in his life.
Slow down. Look around. Things aren’t that nice. Should you give up? Reach for a drink, cry out in despair? No. You can do it! Just understand that as beautiful as recovery gets, it also gets ugly, it gets boring, it gets mundane. You are in your reality and the way to MASTER IT is to accept it. And accept yourself. Happiness is within your reach.
I want to talk about something controversial, which is the fact that things aren’t always… nice. Or if you’d rather, that reality can be harsh, difficult to accept, and that our reactions to adverse situations are what often keeps us stuck in patterns that can be self-destructive. This, in turn, can make it hard to relate to others, which prevents us from developing and thriving in our recovery. Not trusting others can be a great coping mechanism during traumatic periods of our lives, but it is not a mechanism that can sustain us. To get better, we must be able to open up and to feel safe in our environment. Unfortunately, trauma and things like Post-Traumatic Stress disorder are a challenge to trust because we were forced to go into those modes to persevere. And if distrust is what has served as a defensive mechanism, we might falsely believe that it is also what protects us. Anxiety, bipolar disorder, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), abuse, neglect, and other dysfunctions – all those negative experiences and illnesses distort our reality and keep us spinning our wheels. Our inability to relate to others becomes pathological. We’re isolating under the false pretense that keeps us safe, but our isolation only – the pain we feel by not having a sense of belonging.
But how do we get unstuck? How do we change our lives so that we can feel safe? Slowly. First of all, understand that traumas and your mental health issues are not what define you. Those things are a part of your life, but they are not your life. You do not owe your trauma anything; there is absolutely no reason for you to hold on to it because it doesn’t serve you in any way. Acknowledge it and work with a therapist or even a trusted friend to unpack it and understand it. You might never be fully “cured,” but that doesn’t mean that you’re not salvageable! That’s nonsense, and most of us are capable of taking charge of our lives and improving them by dealing with reality on reality’s terms.
Your traumas were, and are, obstacles, but you can work with obstacles. You can overcome, and you can even rename them – call them life experiences from now on! Take away the power you give them by re-categorizing them and slotting them into your memory bank as “bad time” instead of letting them eat up your current time. You can change your perceptions and re-examine your beliefs – being able to re-examine and re-working your perceptions can alter your way of thinking, which is one of the most effective ways of dealing with trauma.
Need a more clinical explanation and approach? Study components of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), developed by Albert Ellis in 1955 and originally called rational therapy. REBT laid the foundation for what is now known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In simplest terms, REBT/ CBT work is based on examining and dealing with the ABCs: Activating event, Beliefs, and Consequences. During therapy, you learn to question strong and adverse emotional reactions, and you will be able to understand how they get activated and, in turn, know how to… interrupt them. You are now in charge; your trauma no longer is.
Emotionally healthy human beings develop an acceptance of reality, even when the reality is highly unfortunate and unpleasant. REBT helps people develop three types of acceptance: (1) unconditional self-acceptance; (2) unconditional other-acceptance; and (3) unconditional life-acceptance. It takes time to master these techniques, but you can start at any time by reading about it.
Some of my favorite resources on the subject are:
- How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything!,: Revised And Updated by Albert Ellis
- A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis
- 5 REBT Techniques, Exercises and Worksheets at PositivePsychology.com
Read Essay 5 of 7: Is Secular Spirituality Even Possible? Finding your Blue Mind
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