Part 2 of an addiction trap trilogy…
Here we follow on from our opening theme of “How do we get out?” with the question “Who do you think you are?”
Read Part 1 <<here…>>
We have accepted our differences, put the question “How did we get here?” to one side, and taken some steps to get outside help. That’s a good start, a very good start. If we have addiction issues we do what we can to get and stay abstinent if we can, then we start some WORK. This type of work and the form of help we get will not always look the same; it may be in a rehab or treatment centre, a detox unit, self-help groups (in-person or on-line), a book, a psychotherapist, or a friend who bears the fragrance of freedom.
There are many systems and approaches to what we call work. In all of them, we can imagine the work to look like a rope thrown down to us that is just out of reach. If we do nothing we cannot reach the rope. We have to put in some effort, a jump upward of some kind. Once we have gripped the rope, we often find others above us who will reach out their hand and help pull us up. They can only do this after we have made the jump.
In 12 step terms (organisations helping with addiction issues such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), the initial phases may be described as Steps 1, 2 and 3. It doesn’t matter so much what we call them or what a particular organisation names them, but it can help to have some structure or framework to guide us. There are many routes up the mountain and the terminology may change, yet the idea of work remains the relevant principle. We need to jump for that rope. We may find addiction recovery support from many other forms. Some of these may include Smart Recovery, Byron Katie, 3 Principles, or maybe a suitable psychotherapist. We can try what they offer and observe the results.
Many 12 step groups advise getting a same-sex sponsor to help with the work. Whilst this is generally a good idea, would do well to consider our own sexuality before assuming this to be a firm rule. The gender issue can be as simple or as complex as we make it.
We have found that the most skillful and profound work we can do at this time is actually an UNDOING as opposed to a DOING. An amateur golfer or tennis player may go for lessons after many years of doing it their own way. The coach will often strip them down, undoing their stance, grip or technique; we often find our addiction manifests itself in these coping strategies that have grooved a well-worn path. This can be quite an unsettling time; things can appear to get worse before they get better and their performance may drop for a while. But from a new foundation, from letting go of old habits, we can build a life free from the old traps of addiction and the quite predictable consequences. We get a glimpse of clarity, inspiration, and creativity.
So now we reveal the often hidden trick that many of us miss!
We can be in such a hurry to find out what is wrong with us that we fail to see what can be staring us in the face. There are many clues, let’s explore some of them…
“All the world’s a stage, we are merely players” William Shakespeare
What did he mean by this? Well, firstly, our players are actors, the cast of characters in a drama. When actors get together to perform, quite often the first thing they do is spend some considerable time looking at the ‘back-story’ of each player. This gives them an insight into why the cast do as they do. Method actors in particular almost lose themselves in the character they are playing. The pay-off for the audience is that we believe their story. Even though we know at some level that the play is not real, the best actors can make us laugh, cry, love and hate. We can keep this in mind when ‘working’ on ourselves.
When doing ‘work’ on ourselves, it is useful to remember that we are and were, merely players when looking at our previous roles. We can invent a new character who demonises our previous selves, or we can practice forgiveness by seeing that we acted on a script that we inherited. This subtle and simple shift in perspective can allow us to live gently with ourselves and others. Even if this new forgiving character in ourselves is also a role, we often find that it is closer to reality than the villains and heroes and victims we previously acted out. We can let go of our addiction to these old characters by focusing on new ones.
There are numerous references to us being ‘merely players’ in various traditions. We do not have to swallow the suggestion in one sitting. Just leaving the smallest of gaps in our minds can allow these ideas to seep in. “Maybe they have a point, I don’t fully believe it but maybe, just maybe, there may be some truth in what they’re saying”, is plenty enough to get us started. We practice the ideas for a while and see what shows up.
The AA Big Book mentions ‘our actor’ on more than one occasion.
Hinduism sees the world as a divine play.
There are several other philosophies, religions, psychologies and practices that mirror this flavour of idea. We see it as an idea worth exploring. To consider that we are the witness or observer of the play, or the chooser of the role, as opposed to being cast in one role forever.
When working on ourselves we consider this idea of play or roles. It can soften the way we look at ourselves; it offers some insulation from being too hard on ourselves and curiously, when we do this, we are naturally softer with others. We travel lighter.
We often think that we are one, solid character. One person or personality. The idea of split or multiple personalities is for the mentally un-hinged right? We can cringe at the idea that we are multi-faceted, and we see the hypocrisies, divides, paradoxes and dishonesty so much clearer in others. Here is where the idea or device of characters and plays serves us best, and it works best when we work on ourselves and the realization of our own inconsistencies from the position of the neutral observer. It is a little like we are assessing the players in a drama. We understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. We take the whole thing a little less seriously and a little less personal; it’s all part of a bigger play. We loosen our addiction to the small cast of characters we thought we were and we take on new, healthier roles borne out of inspiration and clarity.
We put the gender or any other issue to one side and we work together. We hold the rope, we work against the system by seeing it as a play, we pull together: we work together.
The third and final installment is due soon; look out for the closing part of the trilogy. It’s called “Maintenance and Growth”.
You may have guessed already that we will reveal another attitudinal tip or two that you can use to help soften the journey out of addiction.
Comments and observations are most welcome…