Cultivating Healthy Self Parenting

By Ken Wells - 08/16/2022


Series Three: Blog Fifty-Three

Most addicts roll with life being emotionally intolerant. Nostalgia is not warm. It’s haunting. Yesterday brings back moments of painful loneliness and bitter emptiness. There is a quixotic interest to revisit past family experience and make it something it never was. Some shut down all feelings that trigger past memories of childhood. There is an unspoken vendetta to crush all possibility of connecting to a hurtful past. Yet, the longer we live, past experience trends upward and outward. Feelings of discomfort regurgitate in our memories like heartburn from drinking too much coffee. Old torments appear in unexpected moments. Unwanted destructive behaviors crop up like weeds in a bean field. Getting rid of them is like one continual game of Whack-A-Mole.

We grew up in families who had no boundaries. Everybody knew and was into each other’s business. A concern for boundary violation was quashed by the dysfunctional behavior that dominated family living. Anything outside the family norm was driven out. If you liked hard rock and the preferred music was country, you kept it to yourself. If you wanted to wear a Pukka shell necklace you were ridiculed for being a hippie. In my family, the peace sign pointed to the antichrist. If you wore it or drew it on anything you were unwittingly promoting the devil. Lava lights and black lights represented a counter cultural movement that ultimately led to drugs, sex and rock n roll.  Back in the day, fathers divorced their sons for wearing long hair. Kids grew up hating their now deceased dads about the long locks of hair that were once a battleground but now a bald distant memory.

Past experience of verbal knockdown drag out fights over styles, physical weight, religion, drugs, rock n roll, and circular rhetoric about ‘do as I say not as I do’ sit in a cauldron of past memories. The tsunami of pent up emotion erupts like a volcano when past memories are triggered by current experiences in life.

The response for an addict is to numb out through a cocktail of escape experiences.

Addicts attach to a substance and/or process because it delivers what it promises and is a very predictable lover. It is the only way an addict knows how to self-regulate. The crazy-making experiences in life that don’t make sense don’t matter anymore once the lover is engaged. The whole of life becomes surrounded by addictive behavior. Frequently, it is muttered “this person had so much going for them. How could they destroy themselves with addictive behavior?” But, when you excavate the root causation, intense emotional pain is uncovered as the driver of the insane behavior. In order to take away the addictive behavior, you must understand the role it plays in the person’s life and then replace it with something that does work. Emotional self-regulation doesn’t come from others because others have been the source of the pain in the first place. Addicts don’t have the ability to utilize others in a safe manner.

Here are some considerations for healing:

  1. Create a secure base. Easier said than done. You will need a safe container by way of a community to achieve a safe base. In parenting a child, the parent gives 100% effort to helping the child identify how they feel about what goes on around and inside them. They concentrate on helping the child understand their relationship to others and how the world operates. When there is an absence of parenting, it is like being thrown out of the airplane without a parachute. A child lives with internal chaos and anxiety. This is the condition that must be addressed in every addict. It is mostly likely to be successfully addressed in the context of a healthy community like a 12-step group. There an addict can explore what h/she feels about self and others. They can practice relational engagement. It is a place to sift and sort feelings about relationship dynamics in and outside the group context.
  2. Begin the process of integrating your fragmented self. Addicts learn to utilize denial and dissociation as a way of coping with discomfort in life. They struggle to trust others and wrestle with a host of self-sabotaging behaviors. In order to address the hole in their soul an addict must learn to unite their fragmented self. For example, an addict may say they hate themselves because they are ugly. They are not ugly but they feel ugly. There exists two conflicting thoughts that fragment and alienate. It is important that an addict form an internal relationship with these two fragmented parts. Addicts must learn to have dialogue including both thoughts and perspectives. An addict creates a secure base when both opposite perspectives and feelings are recognized and neither are ignored and a relationship is formed with the two parts.
  3. Cultivate self-parenting skills. An addict will often denigrate themselves with negative self-talk. Addicts struggle with an unstable sense of self. There is a sense in which an addict knows that whatever they say is true and that the opposite is true as well. An addict understands the rational part of craving. They know it makes no sense to engage the addiction. However, there is another part that is stuck in a 12-14 year old emotional self. What is needed on the scene is a wise mind observer rather than enabling the 14-year-old to highjack the scene.

It’s like the whip on the stage coach of a team of horses racing out of control across the prairie headed for a narrow passage way with a 100-foot drop. The whip takes the reins and gives them to a 14-yr-old kid hanging on to the side rail and says “kid you are on your own!” This would be disaster! Comparatively, the whip takes the reins from the child’s hands, pulls the child close and whispers that he knows how to get the team of horses to slow to a stop and does. He carefully navigates the narrow passage way and all is good and everyone is safe.

This is what must be practiced in terms of self-parenting in the life of an addict. Two opposing perspectives must be recognized with a wise observing mind making the mature decision. This is the practice of healthy self-parenting.

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