@Tian Dayton PhD
Talk doesn’t cook rice.
Chinese proverb

troubled young woman
Recovery is a verb. It requires daily commitment and action. We cannot think our way into a changed life or Google our way into emotional health and sobriety. Recovery is about creating a new body, mind and heart to live in for the rest of our lives. So how do we do that? For starters, it is important to realize that there is no such thing as a quick fix. Quick fixes like crash diets don’t really work. Just as our body has a “set point” of weight that it tends to return to, so do our emotions. Recovery is about changing our emotional set point so that our resting place becomes a balanced on; so that we break the habit of going from one emotional extreme to the other.

Part of what we are doing in recovery is rewiring our body/mind systems to be able to tolerate increasing amounts of emotional and psychological intense feeling without blowing up, shutting down or self medicating. This limbic reregulation happens slowly and over time. A week or a month or even a year are not enough time to accomplish this intricate mind body task. It takes years for us, in my experience, to accomplish these deep changes and it requires that we are disciplined and responsible about staying on the recovery path, i.e. “walking the walk” not just “talking the talk”.
Some of the primary tasks of recovery are as follows:
•  limbic rewiring
•  creating a new support network or revitalizing aspects of existing ones
•  doing body work, exercising and adopting good nutritional habits
•  learning healthy ways of self soothing
•  doing the family of origin, present day family and trauma work in order to work with issues that contributed to using and dysfunction
•  Finding alternative ways to attain a “feel good” state such as exercise, meditation/relaxation/breath work, finding meaningful activities and hobbies.For all concerned recovery is critical. All too often, family members want to cordon the “problem” off somewhere outside of themselves because the trauma that they have experienced simply makes deep reflection feel too risky. Unconsciously they may feel that if they let themselves hurt, if they allow themselves to know how much pain they carry, they won’t come out the other end whole and intact. They have developed life long patterns designed to avoid feeling pain. But avoiding large pockets of pain keeps us isolated from our own joy and creativity and from deep connection with others.By now it is probably clear to you that it is necessary to heal the body as well as the mind when in recovery from relationship trauma and addiction. Actually, we were doing this in the addictions field long before neuroscience told us why we were doing it. Amazing as it may seem, it was a revolutionary concept in the seventies that family members needed personal healing as well as addicts. And is was really in the late eighties that we started seeing the body as well as the mind addressed in treatment. How was this done? Yoga began to be taught in treatment facilities because so many of us went to it intuitively and found it beneficial. The same is true for meditation. Today there is plenty of good research that “proves” why yoga and meditation are so effective in regulating the limbic system and hence our emotions and body.Some of the tasks of recovery that those of us who have lived with addiction and/or trauma need to practice are to develop the ability to tolerate strong emotions without acting out, along with enough emotional literacy so that problems can be talked out rather than explode or implode.The cerebral cortex has more inputs from the limbic system than the limbic system has coming from the cortex. Consequently our emotions highly impact our thinking and choice making processes. I ntegrating these emotional messages with our reason is part of how we come to better understand ourselves, others and develop the emotional literacy that allows us to talk out rather than act out. Because this is a journey, we need to prepare ourselves. We need to create what psychologists refer to as a “holding environment” in which we feel safe enough to heal. We may not feel completely safe because the very feelings we are allowing to emerge within us are those that we fear the most. So our healing network will need to be strong enough to hold us through our inevitable ups and downs of recovery .

Here are the elements that, over the years, I have observed to be cornerstones of a recovery network. Don’t panic, you needn’t do all of this at once. Some aspects of your recovery plan will last longer than others based on need and personal preference. But these are the basic elements that you will be pulling from. Think of this as an emotional diet. If you want to lose heavy, historical weight and keep it off, you need a life style change. You need to change the way you live. You will need a n ew design for living.

Setting Up My Recovery Safety Net/ Network

Twelve Step Programs

Talk alone does not inscribe new hardwiring into our neural networks. For this to occur we need to log the necessary hours in the presence of others who are experiencing balance and pleasure in their lives. As we’re healing, we need to develop new relationships that will teach them the skills of limbic regulation such as those found in therapy, hobby groups, faith institutions, twelve step rooms and healthy lifestyle activities. These healing relationships offer the experience of new, external limbic regulators through which we internalize the skills of emotional regulation. Adding new relationships as well as nourishing, creative and physically enhancing activities such as hobbies, exercise and relaxation can help to reregulate a limbic system that talk alone cannot reach.

Twelve step programs are the meat and potatoes of your recovery network. They provide a constantly available safety net so that you will have people to turn to whenever you need them. We all need friends on our journey of recovery, people who are going through what we’re going through, who understand what we are experiencing and what we’re trying to accomplish. Twelve step programs are a source of information, people we can identify with, friendships and community. They lay the groundwork for a new design for living. They help us to develop emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Healing happens naturally in program as we identify with what others say and hear our won story or pieces of it through other people lives. Our limbic system is soothed through the phenomenon of limbic resonance because people stabilize people. As we listen to the stories of others, we have insights and aha’s, we begin to allow feelings from our own lives surface and we observe them through our adult eyes of today. We see things in a new light. Twelve step programs have very clear ground rules that keep the environment feeling safe which is part of why they allow us to heal at our own pace. Most cities have many meeting each week to choose from. There are twelve step programs for alcoholics Alcoholics Anonymous AA, Narcotics Anonymous NA for drug users, Overeaters Anonymous OA, Sex addicts Anonymous SA. ALANON is for those living with addiction who are not addicts themselves but have been affected by another person’s addiction, ALATEEN is for teenagers who have been affected by someone else’ addiction and ACOA or CODA meeting are for adult children of alcoholics or codependents. The quality of meetings differs with each region. My advice is to attend a few beginners meetings in one or more of your areas of interest to get the basics of the program and to explore until you find the meetings that suit you. There is no membership, you come and go as you please and the fees are donations. Information about all of these programs can be easily located on the internet.

The Basics: The Nuts and Bolts of Your Recovery Network

Twelve Step Programs

Twelve step programs are the meat and potatoes of your recovery network. They provide a constantly available safety net so that you will have people to turn to whenever you need them. We all need friends on our journey of recovery, people who are going through what we’re going through, who understand what we are experiencing and what we’re trying to accomplish. Twelve step programs are a source of information, people we can identify with, friendships and community. They lay the groundwork for a new design for living. They help us to develop emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Healing happens naturally in program as we identify with what others say and hear our won story or pieces of it through other people lives. Our limbic system is soothed through the phenomenon of limbic resonance because people stabilize people. As we listen to the stories of others, we have insights and aha’s, we begin to allow feelings from our own lives surface and we observe them through our adult eyes of today. We see things in a new light. Twelve step programs have very clear ground rules that keep the environment feeling safe which is part of why they allow us to heal at our own pace. Most cities have many meeting each week to choose from. There are twelve step programs for alcoholics Alcoholics Anonymous AA, Narcotics Anonymous NA for drug users, Overeaters Anonymous OA, Sexaholics Anonymous SA. ALANON is for those living with addiction who are not addicts themselves but have been affected by another person’s addiction, ALATEEN is for tenagers who have been affected by someone else’ addiction and ACOA or CODA meeting are for adult children of alcoholics or codependents. The quality of meetings differs with each region. My advice is to attend a few beginners meetings in one or more of your areas of interest to get the basics of the program and to explore until you find the meetings that suit you. There is no membership, you come and go as you please and the fees are donations.

One to One Therapy

Having a therapist or a special person to whom you can count on to help you sort out your thoughts, feelings and issues can be a very helpful part of recovery. One to one therapy replicates the parent/child diad and offers an opportunity to have a reparenting type experience. There is an opportunity to build a trusting relationship, to learn to open up and trust another person and to learn the skills of tolerating strong emotion and translating those emotions into words. One to one therapy is not about grand insights necessarily, but rather it gives us the opportunity to build a relationship in which we can develop a new sense of ourselves in relationship to another person.

Group Therapy

If one to one therapy represents the parent/child diad, then group therapy represent the family. Both are very important in order to grow fully through recovery. Group mobilizes the sorts of intense feelings we experienced in our families and allows us to see ourselves in action, relationally speaking. Group helps us to learn to tolerate frustration, wait for our turn, take our turn rather than give it away. We learn how to hang onto a sense of self while in the presence of others and be ourselves in the context of a group. For those who have grown up in troubled families, group, in my opinion, essential. It should be accompanied with weekly one to one sessions so that the powerful feeling that do get aroused can be worked through with full attention from a therapist.

During early recovery from addiction, it may be wise to be a part of a group that is centered on staying sober. Initially, going too deep and mobilizing too much pain can lead to relapse. Eventually however, not addressing the early pain that may have led to self medication can also lead to relapse because the pain keeps us stuck in the repetition of painful relational dynamics. As your recovery progresses and sobriety is well established, you can look into groups that do deeper healing work that includes family of origin issues. For those who are not addicted but have lived with relationship trauma and/or addiction, joining groups that address deeper family or origin and relational issues is very helpful. I prefer psychodrama groups for the deeper healing work. A picture is worth a thousand words. In psychodrama, the body as well as the mind enters the healing process.

Psychodrama

Psychodrama is a wonderful method of treatment for those whose sobriety is well established or those who have experienced relationship trauma.
Psychodrama allows complexes and conflicts to be concretized by casting group members to play roles from the life of the protagonist. It allows the protagonist to have a physical “encounter” with the self; to see and experience what he carries within his mind and body, so that it can be made explicit, concrete and can be dealt with in the here and now. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The purpose of psychodramatic role plays is to resolve through action insight rather than talk alone. Through role play , thinking, feeling and behavior emerge simultaneously to allow for a fuller picture of what is being carried in the psyche to come into view. The “double” acts as an inner voice putting words on interior thoughts, sensations and emotions that may be less than conscious. This “doubling” from others helps to enhance awareness of self and provide the protagonist with a feeling of being seen, supported and understood. “Role reversal” allows the protagonist to actually stand in the shoes of other persons in the role play in order to see the self from the position of the other and to actually experience being “in the skin” someone else.

Psychodrama permits action and production as a means to study behavior in its concrete form. The therapeutic stage allows for the natural condensations and expansions of time t o emerge as they do in the timelessness of the mind and heart. On the living stage our worlds can be produced in a manner that more closely imitates the way in which they are stored within us. That part of us that, though invisible, provides the script from which we live–our psychological and emotional world, with all of its uniquely personal meaning, logic and significance. This is the world that drives and defines us.

Exercise, Hobbies and Play

In addition to all that we have mentioned above, part of our healing network should include ways of having fun, developing our passionate sides and being with people in ordinary, social ways. Exercise needs to be a part of getting our mind and body in shape and achieving emotional sobriety. If our bodies aren’t clean, fit and wholesome, our limbic systems can be effected which in turn affects our emotions. Exercise kicks in the bodies natural opoid system which sooths and regulates out bodies so that we don’t look to external sources like food, drugs and so on to do that job for us. Hobbies and passions give us a reason to get up in the morning and vehicles through which to express ourselves creatively. We enter a “flow state” which is another way of calming and focusing ourselves. Another path toward achieving feelings of well being. And play is how we learn to have goalless fun with others, how to be spontaneous, get out of ourselves and learn skills of relating in a fun and engaging way.

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