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Are We Stuck in Recovery Tunnel Vision and Missing the Wildflowers?

“I don’t want to go to Adult Children of Alcoholics,” I exclaimed to my therapist.

“You don’t have to,” she told me.

“Oh. Is there a book I can read instead”? I asked, utterly perplexed.

She laughed.

I’m one of those people that needs to understand behavior – the brain, how addiction works, and, here’s the crux: how to fix it.

Stuck in the Details of Doing the Work

So often in recovery, we get stuck in the detail of doing the work to recover that we can neither see just exactly what we’ve achieved, nor how far we’ve come. My therapist said to me that I have my head so stuck in this sort of recovery tunnel vision toward and end goal of resolving all of my attachment and family of origin issues – a goal which is impossible – that I am missing the wildflowers all around me.

So determined to rid myself of uncomfortable feelings and pain, she suggested that I’m missing out on just how much my life, and my emotional development, has evolved and the very real joy in my everyday life.

I was so broken when I arrived in AA; fractured into a million pieces of my former self. In some ways, I feel that broken isn’t big enough a word – destroyed is perhaps more apt. My body was very physically sick, having just spent three nights on the bathroom floor in an alcohol detox, and my mind was fractured into so many pieces I was bewildered about where to begin. I guess that’s why I ended up in AA: I needed the help of others to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself.

The road ahead was a long one; I spent years in AA and NA working through the Steps and it helped, somewhat. I mean, I stopped drinking and using, which is what they promised, but I was left with quite a few bigger shards of ‘broken’ self that needed dealing with. Like family of origin issues – the very core of my problem. Such a huge problem that it permeated all of my relationships and interaction with the world. The Steps didn’t touch the sides on these issues -nor did they promise to – I required professional help.

With addiction rife in my family, I didn’t develop neurologically as I should have. The parts of my brain responsible for rational thought and impulse control weren’t effectively formed, meaning I was biologically and genetically predisposed to addiction. Add trauma into the mix, and an inability to cope with life and its stressors, it was fairly inevitable that I would develop issues with substance misuse. Which I did – in abundance. Together with eating disorders, attachment issues, and codependency.

Resolving the Unresolved

Take the drugs and alcohol out of the equation and you’re left with the unresolved trauma, a brain that needs rewiring, as well as behavioral and cognitive adjustment. A spiritual solution isn’t enough. I had to get involved with therapy, medical treatment for my long-standing mental illness, and a holistic approach to recovery including looking after my well-being.

In this therapy session I talk of, I was reminded yet again of the fact that my goal of being free of pain and uncomfortable feelings is something nearly impossible to attain. Sure, I can work through trauma, learn new coping strategies, and gain a different and less traumatized perspective, but the uncomfortable feelings will never leave. I’ll just have a different relationship with them. One of a more mindful observer, than stuck in the feelings consuming me.

In this particular instance, what my therapist was telling me is that I don’t need to go to ACA because I am already parenting myself, I am already dealing with my trauma, I practice radical self-care, and I am in long-term recovery. A book or a self-help group (when I already have community and empathy in Refuge Recovery) isn’t going to add anything to the plethora of recovery activities I already undertake.

She reminded me of how far I have come: I am over five and a half years sober and I am an incredibly strong and resilient woman to have overcome the trauma and past that I have. She pointed at the many beautiful wildflowers which are all around me, right now: I fulfilled a dream of moving continent; pursued a passion of mine and turned it into a career; I broke free from a string of office jobs which felt like a prison because I wasn’t fulfilling my potential; I live in a beautiful part of the world with so much greenery that I struggle to take it all in; I feel the most free I have ever felt in my life physically, mentally, and emotionally; and I have fulfilling and loving friendships.

She had a point. Or two.

Choose to See Your Own Wildflowers

My word, I have overcome so much and I have a great life. Sure, I am affected by uncomfortable feelings – I’m sensitive – and I struggle with life just like the next person. I will no doubt continue to have issues that come up in intimate relationships, too. But I am not imprisoned by addiction anymore. Maybe I need to stop looking for answers and live my life; truly breathe my existence in this world in and appreciate the wildflowers all around me.

What I didn’t realize is that I am a beautiful mosaic of all my broken pieces; I am whole and I don’t need to fix myself any more. I’m good – in fact great – just as I am.

Do you see your wildflowers?



Images Courtesy of iStock

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