For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
—Benjamin Button, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I love this quote. So hopeful and encouraging! I want to remember it on a daily basis so as not to be stuck in a Groundhog Day repetition of my childhood experience.
Recovery work with addicts can be baffling. It’s hard to give up one’s self-medication. Some people change their minds.
An overwhelming percentage of addicts have been traumatized during a childhood of abuse and neglect in one form or another, which means that these survivors of trauma relive their childhood suffering over and over – in their minds and also by populating their world with people who remind them of their childhood. The lasting high-alert stress response is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and refers to the fact that painful experiences have been imprinted on the brain.
The victim role can be compelling – people remain in permanent defense with distorted perceptions, where they resent others and sabotage themselves. A bold attempt to adjust perceptions, by suggesting that perhaps this or that person is not altogether “evil”, can instantly propel the well-meaning, would-be helper into the line of fire, where s/he gets hit with a dose of attack and blame.
If you look at abuse as an injury that occurred to the child, you could then make it a point to focus on healing of emotional wounds, rather than searching for blame. But traumatized children have been betrayed and abandoned and it can appear as though they must be loyal to the bleeding child they once were, or else that child would be forgotten and lost forever. PTSD may be an attempt to deal with trauma in such a way that healing of self is compromised for the sake of dealing with the outside, possibly in an attempt to prevent further victimization. This does make sense, but it also serves to prevent healing, thus extending the victim’s suffering indefinitely.
Survivors of trauma, especially when it occurred very early on, remain in survival mode filled with fear, distrust, disgust and resentments. Mental anguish can make sobriety undesirable and slowly destroy a person years after the events are over. The so-called chronic relapse mode is diagnostic. It can indicate that sobriety brings up unacceptable repressed memories. It’s an essential step, a promising beginning, but certain experiences may need to be worked through so that mental stability can gradually be established, with an eventual emergence of a positive sense of self and a sense of peace.
A lovely and loving bond between fellow alcoholics can be established and some helpful interactions can take place. But if the person for whom the alcoholic has come to depend on leaves, the anger at the mother who was useless and damaging can reemerge. However, re-parenting can take place within an ongoing relationship with a good sponsor or psychotherapist, and addicts can discover trust, hope and confidence, and with it the courage to let go of their victim identity and begin to enjoy continuous, meaningful and mutual relationships. It can happen!
It might help to keep in mind that the childhood is over – both the good and the bad. One must choose between oneself and the perpetrator and use this moment’s life energy for love rather than for fear. Ultimately, forgiveness is an act of self-love, which disables angry unhappiness and makes healing possible.
End Note: The concept of neuroplasticity suggests that it is possible to remap the brain through novel experiences at any time throughout life – especially after an experience such as detox. This means that early recovery is a great time to leave behind destructive old automatic patterns and replace them with something better.