Growing Yourself Up—An Emotional Skill Set

By Ken Wells - 03/05/2021


Series Two: Blog Nine

There are many skills necessary to manage long term sobriety from addiction.  During early stages of recovery, the most difficult achievement is to figure out how to make it through one hour or one day without using. The 12-step program is an invaluable gift to millions of addicts. It has been a constant lifeline for so many of us during these days of great struggle. Without the Twelve Steps so many of us would have been swept over the waterfalls of relapse never to return to centered living. The 12-step community has become a source of strength and grounding for millions like me. It has been a safe place to return for validation and acceptance and to do the work of growing myself up into an emotional adult. 

Once you put a cork in the bottle, whatever your addiction, there are many levels of personal growth that include but are not exclusive to 12-step work. Some old- timers in the 12-step community have said “you don’t need therapy or anything else to be sober or grow other than the Twelve Steps.” It’s true for some. It’s also true that some didn’t need the Twelve Steps at all to stop addictive behavior. I and many others have needed to work the 12-steps and utilize many other tools outside of the 12-step community.

There are many more likenesses than differences between addicts and non-addicts in the world we live. Every struggle that anyone experiences is interconnected to all the people who surround you. Humanity requires community and it is my belief that community is created by the interwoven life struggle that we all share. We are not all addicts. Yet, we all know emotional struggle. In this context, I would like to share practical tools toward deepening emotional growth and development in and around addiction recovery.

Adult grounding

When I was young, my mother used to harangue, saying “Why don’t you grow yourself up and be like William Campbell?”  I never liked William Campbell for that reason. He liked Popular Mechanics magazine and I liked Sports Illustrated. The differences went on from there. I never liked being told to grow up. Yet today, as I approach 70 years of age, growing myself up has become my passion. Essentially, life-long sobriety and recovery are about growing yourself up. Grounding yourself as an adult is formidable for all, addict and non-addict alike. I liken the experience to a scene from a western movie that I watched as a kid. There is this stagecoach with a team of horses running out of control across the prairie. There is the veteran whip (stagecoach operator) and a young boy sitting next to the whip, hanging on to the side rail for dear life.  Suddenly, the whip takes the reins, forces them into the hands of the terrified young boy, and says, “kid you’re on your own”. Now, everyone watching knows that the prairie leads to a narrow canyon with a 100-foot drop.  Everyone knows that as long as the kid is in charge, the coach and everyone with it are going to end up at the bottom of that canyon. Yet, the experienced whip intervenes. With firmness he takes the reins from the boy. Rather than chastise the boy for his incompetence he pulls the boy close to his side. As he takes charge, he whispers in the ear of the young lad that he has been in this position many times before and that he knows how to get the team of horses under control, even to a stop when needed. He tells the boy that we will navigate through this narrow canyon and that all will be safe and that is exactly what happened in the movie. 

I contend that you and I are that whip when it comes to places in recovery where we feel overwhelmed and inadequate. It might be facing a difficult relationship challenge when you are triggered with thoughts that you are not enough. It could be overwhelming trauma, grief, depression, financial stress, or many other forms of loss. When we take the reins and put them into the hands of the little boy or little girl within, we will succumb to overwhelm. Giving the reins or the power to the small child within always results in failed outcomes. This exchange is an ongoing dynamic throughout adult living. Those who grow themselves up become adept to recognizing when they have handed the reins to the small child, and firmly take back the reins and care for the child and not allow him to run the show. This is not a one-and-done experience, but an ongoing dynamic throughout daily living. This is true whether you are an addict or not. When faced with fear, overwhelm, and challenge, a relevant question is who is in charge of your life right now? How old do you feel? 

When you recognize that you are operating from the perspective of a small child, you can work to shift the responsibility to the powerful adult that you are. It’s not as if you have all the answers to recovery, life’s problems and challenges, but it is as if you can resource yourself when grounded as an adult. It’s sort of like the world of technology. Who knows all there is to know about internet technology? The key is knowing how to resource yourself and where to go to find the answers. We do that all the time in our professional worlds. To be grounded as an adult is to be committed to resourcing yourself. You will become stuck with feelings of overwhelm when you put pressure on yourself to know all the answers. Panic means only that you must take the power back from your little child and place it in the hands of the powerful adult that you are. Trust yourself. You can learn to resource yourself from other times in your life where you successfully overcame feeling overwhelmed. These are life experiences that you can draw from. We can borrow from times when we have been successful in facing adversity and struggle and translate those skills into the here and now. All we need to do is take the reins from the child and become the whip of our own lives.

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