03 September 2007

Getting Well, Part 3: From Support to Recovery

It's not enough to be aware of what they did to us.

It's not enough to understand how they brainwashed us.

Even if we have grasped these things, even if we are detaching and attempting to understand our stinkin' thinkin', if we don't make recovery our priority, we are going to falter and stall.

I'm not talking about the spiral staircase that we walk as we get well, where we may revisit some issues repeatedly, and sometimes fall back a level or two before we can continue our climb.

I mean a true stall. No power, no progress. Just.... sitting there, immobilized. Like an insect in amber.... forever unchanging. Forever....

This is what we risk when we make support a permanent substitute for recovery.

Support is affirmation and acceptance regardless of one's behavior or past experiences. It is vital for trauma survivors of any kind, for those who are grieving, those who are coming to terms with hard and inflexible facts. And it may be needed for a long, long time, while the traumatic memories recede, and the grief becomes an accepted part of reality.

Unfortunately, while support is a necessary foundation for healing from abuse, it isn't sufficient. In order to heal, it is absolutely essential that we move beyond support alone.

Recovery starts with support, but it also includes accountability. That's why 12 Step groups encourage members to take their own inventory first. If they simply support each other, it's possible to become completely fixated on what 'those people out there' did and said, and avoid ever looking at their own responses to 'those people', to their own maladaptive actions and beliefs.

In fact, as one moves deeper into recovery, one's own accountability becomes the primary focus to an ever greater extent. This is why the 12th Step reads:
"Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
There is something extremely important here, well worth bearing in mind.

Ironically, many people who seek only support, who find the demands of recovery too daunting and painful to face and therefore reject any focus on accountability as 'morbid', 'too theoretical', 'too demanding' 'too judgemental', etc., have lacked crucial support in the past precisely because their primary abuser, someone extremely important to them in their own lives, demanded exactly the same thing from them. Support without accountability - affirmation and acceptance regardless of their behavior.

Abusers demand affirmation regardless of how they behave towards us or anyone. They actively avoid looking at their own unproductive actions or beliefs. Think about every abusive person you have ever known; don't they demand this very thing?

In fact, the insistence on being affirmed and supported regardless of what one has done - is practically the hallmark of an abuser.

No-one seeking to recover from the effects of abuse, then, can rationally expect to do so, if we just demand the same thing from others that our abusers demanded from us.... and never move beyond that point.

To restore the support we were never given is necessary and nourishing. But to stop there, to make that our home for the rest of our lives, is to risk living entombment in a neverending game of "Ain't It Awful", where we are always, and only, thinking about what others have done or said or might say or do to us.... but never about what we have done or said or might do or say to them.

Is that a life? Is it enough?

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