Building Blocks for a Healing Community

By Ken Wells - 04/10/2021


Series Two: Blog Nineteen

Creating healing in community is difficult. Shelter and sanctuary, inclusion, honor and worthiness are distinct needs that every human being longs to fulfill. Without these inherent qualities it is very difficult to recover from addiction. Each represents an essential foundation stone for healing in communities around the world.  

Trauma and domination can destroy these requisites for healing in community. In order to survive, a community member may need to prioritize inclusion over much needed security or honor over acceptance. Survival will require that you navigate your experience without the ability to meet internal nonnegotiable needs. As a result, traumatic signs appear: anxiety and depression, chronic mistrust of self and others, shame and other indicators that result from community harm.

When I was a very young boy, during a particular worship service, the pastor of the church called for my dad to send me to the front of the congregation so that he could demonstrate his attempt to influence a gutter drunk to repent of his sins and become born again. I remember being very small, self-conscious and uncertain. The pastor hoisted me to the top of the altar in front of the church. He began to undress me in front of the entire congregation. When I objected, he scolded me telling me he was wanting me to cooperate in order to illustrate the impact of his witness. My parents did not intervene. I was on my own. Shelter and safety was compromised and took second priority to honor and worthiness. When he unzipped my trousers, I zipped them back up, jumped off the altar and ran to the back of the church. Safety was forfeited and I did not want to belong. I only wanted to fight for my dignity.

Many addicts come from home and social environments where these important needs were never met.  Trauma and social domination leave shelter, the need for inclusion and honor damaged and unmet. It splits the need for security, acceptance and respect from each other so that they are no longer coordinates for support. Many who are damaged or ravaged by abuse, neglect, abandonment and oppressive conditions in their family circumstances turn to addictive behaviors to numb the pain. For them this is their only resource for survival.

A community with a healing environment has the comprised ability to reconnect security with inclusion and honor and respect so that they harmonize in congruence with each component. Such a community works to replace survival reactions that include escape through addiction with updated skills that foster safety, acceptance and high regard.

Let’s examine each building block that provides healing in community.

Shelter and Security:

When the COVID pandemic swept across our nation, we were asked to shelter in place. There was great unknown danger and initially most folk miraculously cooperated in order to create protection and provide for community safety.

Every addict longs for safety.

Yet most create havoc through uncontrolled behavior. A 12 step community provides predictability, accountability and the opportunity for an addict to heal. It provides a secure environment to learn how to regenerate safety and to determine how to build skills needed to shape security for themselves and others. Everyone deserves shelter–material, emotional, relational, social and spiritual. However, the vast majority of people worldwide because of social conditions and global economy are not afforded basic shelter and security.

Trauma undermines the ability to evaluate what is security and what is not. An addict with a background of domestic violence may conclude that they are safe because currently they are not being beaten by their partner. Or, they may be convinced they are insecure and unsafe based on historical abuse when in fact they are safe in the current environment. A 12-step environment is a safe place to sift and sort out the confusion of safety that gets triggered by trauma and abuse.

Inclusion and Acceptance:

The United Nations reports that today there are over 272 million migrants worldwide. This complex problem carries the struggle every migrant experiences which is the need to feel included, accepted and to belong.  It is a basic human need to feel connected to a tribe, a family, a community. Many addicts share a similar testimony as that of a migrant, feeling that they do not belong anywhere. They feel disenfranchised. There is no place they feel connected. This experience of feeling disconnected fuels a high risk environment of isolation which leads to acting out and other destructive behaviors. Being disconnected undermines a sense of presence for both migrant and addict. There is a growing sense of feeling that you are on the outside looking and longing to be included with those inside. The sense of connection and being included is absolutely necessary in an addict’s development of resilience. Take time to evaluate where you feel included. Is your sense of acceptance and belonging, most connected to acting out partners, a recovery community, or do you feel stuck in isolation?

Honor, high regard and respectability:

Addicts lose their dignity and respectability by their erratic unmanageable behavior. Addiction promotes shame and destroys dignity. To be healthy every person must experience honor. Addicts destroy dignity through privilege and entitlement. Feeling entitled, an addict will encroach upon other people’s space with a privileged mentality of wanting what I want when I want it. Whether my wants violate you in the moment it doesn’t matter. Addicts obliterate worthiness with their self-aggrandizement.

Community is meant to be restorative. Addicts restore respectability through admitting powerlessness and unmanageability. Respectability is restored through amends making and humbly working through the details of every step. The healing power of recovery looks to restore worthiness, honor and high regard.

Generative somatics specialist Stacy Haines wrote “Mending safety, belonging, and dignity is the central purpose of healing.” When this healing occurs shelter and security can once again sustain a longing for acceptance. Belonging and inclusion works to overcome hatred and opposition which gives way to a sense of honor and high regard for self and others. May every 12-step community strive to embrace these healing building blocks and encourage every addict to build upon them toward safety, belonging and dignity.

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