Affirmation: The Magic That Makes Recovery Real

By Ken Wells - 01/08/2021


“Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious, and calm, a Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival. Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the Self-will spontaneously emerge, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process.” ― Bessel A. van der Kolk

“The thing that gets you into trouble is not what you don’t know but it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”— Mark Twain

All addicts are trauma survivors. Most addicts fail to reach below the surface to touch their undamaged essence. Yet, when it is accomplished what is uncovered is the confident, curious and calm self that has been sheltered from destruction.  Only then can these parts be enlisted in the healing process of addictive behavior. Marilyn Murray identifies this undamaged essence as the original feeling child. It is the unfragmented child with all its innate intelligence, talent, creativity and personality. When unleashed, the magic of recovery emerges.  When it is not released, an addict’s view of self and the world is clouded by the mistaken beliefs that dominate perspective nourished during critical formative experiences in life.

Addictive behavior is consummated from mistaken beliefs that block intimacy. During vulnerable and impressionable stages of life experience, an addict forms these mistaken beliefs, which include that you don’t measure up, that you cannot cope because life is overwhelming, that you are not enough, and a host of others. 

Early on, these mistaken beliefs shape and influence self-esteem and world view. The undamaged essence of self is quickly buried as an addict learns to incorporate behaviors that support these mistaken beliefs about themselves.

These destructive beliefs become riveted in an addict’s mindset with powerful grip. Mark Twain once said, “The thing that gets you into trouble is not what you don’t know but it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.  Addicts know for sure that they are flawed and some never unpack the truth that it just ain’t so.

It is the powerful dynamic of shame that fuels mistaken beliefs. I don’t know of anyone who does not struggle with shame in their life. Basically, shame is the dynamic that creates a self-rupture that produces a false self which separates you on the inside from your authentic, genuine self. The question isn’t how to get rid of all the shame; rather it is how to reduce and manage whatever is there. 

Shame is like acid in a car battery. If you keep the acid in the battery it will help you start your car every morning. However, if you allow the acid to come into contact with your skin, it will burn you. Shame is this way. If you allow shame to come into contact with your sense of self it scars and mars. However, if you direct the shame to its source, it can be transformed into empathy and compassion. Whenever you engage in behavior that is against your values it will trigger shame. Separating the hurtful behavior from yourself is absolutely necessary in managing toxic shame. Candidly, it is possible to commit “shitty” behavior without being a “shit.” When this powerful distinction is not made, you get stuck in toxic shame which generally creates more shameful behavior. 

Shame has a vortex nature to it. To manage and shift out of this vortex in thought takes conditioning and training. Addicts, particularly, must rehearse that acting out is an aberration to who they are, not their real identity. To identify yourself as an alcoholic or other addict has to do with the destructive behavior— not the nature of who you are. Behavior, positive or negative, never defines who you are as a person. As you practice sifting and sorting behavior from personhood, you mature in this conditioning and learn to manage toxic shame.

Many addicts in recovery learn to endure the toxic shame with very little shame management. Working a program with community support seems to be adequate to help them avoid relapse. Yet, ultimately to be free from the dregs of shame, you must manage the dynamic through rigorous positive affirmation. 

Cultivating affirmation in addiction recovery requires an addict to be mindful. What an addict thinks about will expand.  Addicts must care about their thoughts. The focus must be more about directing than eliminating negative thoughts. 

Awareness is necessary to recognize self-sabotaging mistaken beliefs and then action must be taken to anchor empowered thinking. It never happens accidentally. If you don’t plant the seeds of belief in yourself in the garden of your mind, you will end up with the weeds of mistaken belief. 

Transforming addiction from a curse to a blessing requires an addict to take who they are and stretch themselves in order to grow and expand their awareness of self and the world around them. When this occurs, personal growth happens in a multitude of ways. When an addict does not stretch toward personal growth, they become dominated by fear and remain inside their comfort zone. Who they are deteriorates and they become only a shadow of what they otherwise could have been.

Affirming oneself when mistaken beliefs are triggered is critical. It requires that you hammer out deep beliefs that you choose to guide your life. Then it depends upon training your mind to enable the affirmation when you need to shift from negative beliefs into positive affirmative action. This is simple but never easy. You will need to condition your mind like an athlete conditions their body. 

When an athlete consistently performs under pressure, it is the result of ongoing training. For example, take a college basketball player faced with a game situation with no time left. His team, the visiting team, is down by one point and he is at the foul line with only one opportunity: If he makes the first free throw, he ties the game with an option to make the second and win the game. There is a lot of pressure. Home team fans behind the goal are doing everything they can to distract the shooter so that he will miss, and the home team will win. 

What does the conditioned player do? In the flash of a moment, he dials back to the lonely times he spent hours practicing in a gym all alone in the summertime. He conditions himself by running wind sprints and stadium steps to a point of exhaustion and then practices shooting free throws, exhausted. He trains shooting free throws with his teammates yelling and screaming at him while he concentrates on each shot in practice. Then, he has his teammates foul and physically hammer him while attempting a shot. Tired and beaten up, he trains himself to concentrate on the necessary mechanics to make the free throw when the game is on the line. This is what is required of the recovering addict in order to incorporate positive affirmation and belief in the presence of dominating mistaken beliefs which self-sabotage recovery and personal destiny. 

Belief in self demands positive affirmations. Belief is an Anglo-Saxon word that means to “live in accordance with”. Living in accordance with positive affirmation takes discipline and determination to condition yourself to forge life-affirming beliefs and train yourself every day to live out the beliefs that you have chiseled down deep in your heart. The direction you are heading becomes more important than individual results. You will fail to maintain focus. Yet, it is the coming back again and again that matters most. Repetition is truly the mother of skill. This is the place where personal brilliance is formulated and refined. In order to transform a life of addiction and overcome mistaken beliefs long ago learned, a deep commitment of incorporating positive affirmations is necessary. Unnoticed in the moment, recovery deepens and becomes real with the magic of positive affirmation.

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