With all that’s going on in today’s world (as I write this the U.S. Federal Funds interest rate stands at 0%, U.S. and world financial markets are limit down, and there is literally no news other than COVID19), where everywhere we turn there appears to be another insurmountable problem, we need to assess those protective factors/ STRENGTHS that we can use to address these challenges. We need to talk about and implement solutions.
In some therapies, as well as recovery group settings, people are often asked to share painful moments, and to point out the areas of their weaknesses—things that have potentially contributed to their problems with drugs or alcohol. In 12-step settings, for example, this tends to go even further as people’s weaknesses are called “character defects” which, ideally, should be prayed away.
It used to astonish me that traits such as “shyness” could be seen as “narcissism” or “introversion” could be twisted to imply passive attention-seeking. I’m not saying those aren’t the correct conclusions in some cases, but I’ve come across many instances where pronouncements like that were made haughtily, quickly, and often without any evidence-based reason. What such new ideas might produce could result in sobriety, but it will be a fear-based sobriety and it might not have much to do with recovery. Recovery is about getting your true self back, about strengthening yourself, about feeling positive about who you are and treating yourself with compassion and respect. It doesn’t mean that you have to necessarily feel happy, but it means that there’s a possibility of contentment that’s genuine.
It took me some time to unlearn a lot of what I’d been taught during my own recovery and as an addictions specialist. Today, I understand acutely that people thrive on encouragement and they don’t get better on the threat of punishment. This is why, as a recovery coach, I like to help people leverage strengths and their inherent values instead of preying on their so-called weaknesses. I’m all for reality checks and good self-insight, but I believe that constant self-flagellation and taking apart your “bad” behavior has no place in long-term recovery. I think the trajectory of all addictions is traumatizing enough that we don’t need to rehash it endlessly and feel forever guilty about things that happened. It’s important to have information and understand some of our motivations when it comes to maladaptive coping skills, but we don’t gain much from dwelling on those forever. Recovery should move the person in it forward, not have them stuck in a loop of trauma.
What I love the most is sitting with my clients trying to discover and then talk about and explore their strengths. We are often so unaware of how resilient we are—addiction tends to rob us of healthy perspectives and positive self-image. But it’s possible to re-discover positivity in our lives, and that should very much be a part of our getting better. We are truly only able to capitalize on positives—yes we can learn from our mistakes, but we inherently build ourselves from a space that encourages growth. There is pain in growth, as the adage has it, but we don’t want it to cause so much pain that it will turn cancerous. There’s really a lot to gain from focusing on the good and putting the bad to rest, and we must remember that our desire to lead a better life doesn’t mean we have to pay for it by suffering even more than we have already.
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