abandonment

Facing Abandonment

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Addicts have many anxieties and fears. They grew up with holes in their souls with unmet childhood developmental needs from parents who failed to provide the fundamental emotional needs necessary. Some addicts suffered woeful negligence from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. For many their parents failed to provide necessary support because they didn’t know how. Their parents loved them but were unable to give to their children that which was not given to them.  

Children learn that their parents loved them when they provide clothing, food, shelter, education, and other material possessions. However, children comprehend that they matter when a parent spends sufficient amounts of time with them on their terms, not the parents. Children develop a hole in their soul when this doesn’t happen. Subconsciously they conclude they don’t matter. They don’t consider that something is wrong with their parents. Instead, they embrace the misbelief that they must not be worthy or important enough for the attention desired.  

Developmentally they become like a chunk of Swiss cheese with holes. Each hole represents an unmet childhood need. Kids learn to compensate by trying to fill the hole from the outside with a cocktail of relational experience. They learn to please and gain approval through performance or get attention with negative social behavior. It doesn’t work because the depth of emotional need that must be met will ultimately only be fulfilled from within. They become like the little kid who can’t get enough sugar. Their emotional neediness becomes insatiable. Eventually, they organize a dependency upon an addictive substance or process that delivers what it promises. For many, it involves a collection of addictions that are depended upon to assuage their fears and anxieties and to numb out what hurts. 

One of the greatest fears that an addict faces is that of abandonment, physically, emotionally, or both. Abandonment is like the metaphor of a pack of wolves that chase you through the woods. The pack pursues you relentlessly even though you create diversionary tactics of avoidance. Eventually, the pack corners you. Either the pack wins and consumes you with addictive behavior or you turn around and face the gnashing teeth of abandonment.  In doing so you begin to realize that it is not the terrorizing force that its growl suggests. 

Addicts become pleasers, workaholics, and deniers to avoid conflict. Behind their behavior is a pernicious fear of abandonment. They will do anything to avoid feeling deserted. Addiction becomes a lifelong affair to avoid abandonment. Some addicts have described their relationship to their drug of choice as a warm blanket that offers consistent comfort from fear and anxiety. What lurks behind every addictive high is the fear of abandonment. How to address abandonment is critical to the long-term sobriety from addiction. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Embrace the fact that the fear of abandonment is universal. Abandonment is not just a fear that afflicts addicts. It impacts partners of addicts and the world at large. It is a common thread of life experience. Recognizing that everyone experiences this fear helps to avoid isolation or the conclusion that you are particularly flawed and different from those around you. You are not! We all must face our fear of abandonment. 

2. Others may desert you but the key is to learn not to desert yourself. This may seem obvious. Yet, simple things are not easy. It’s an automatic response for a child to subconsciously attempt to capture a parents’ attention when neglected.  When children lack recognition for who they are, they try to compensate with what they can do. If the inattentiveness is chronic the child will participate in behaviors that will get their parent’s recognition in order to avoid abandonment. Over time they learn that who they are matters less than how they act or what they do. Essentially, they learn to abandon themselves. Overcoming the fear of abandonment requires that you learn to reclaim the importance of being and parent yourself in healthy ways. You must learn to pay attention to your genuine needs and not abandon yourself through pleasing others.

3. Listen to your triggers, don’t just run from them.  Triggered with fear or lust for your drug of choice can be a gift! This is true for both addicts and partners. When triggered, put yourself out of harm’s way and take time to let the trigger talk to you about your unmet needs that must be met in a healthy way. Some addicts spend much of their recovery reporting about triggers and chronic high risk behaviors, thinking that telling another addict when they have been tempted is enough. However, it is a beginning. When tempted think about the legitimate need that is represented in the trigger and then endeavor to self-parent by meeting the need in a healthy way through adult choice and interaction. Rather than abandon yourself by only running away from the trigger, allow the trigger to speak its truth and transform the trigger from a curse to a blessing. Practicing this skill set which takes a lot of hard work is a major step that avoids abandonment of self.

4. Take the people with you who abandon you. People hurt each other and abandon one another. People die. Relationships end through the passage of time, betrayal, and a myriad of other reasons. It sucks to feel abandoned. Yet, it is a broken experience that is common to all. It requires skills to grieve the loss of what once was. Some people live life longing for yesterday’s experiences in order to avoid feeling abandoned. The end result is that they wallow in the abandonment.  I suggest that you take the lost person or experience with you. Keep it with you in your heart. It is not necessary to live in the past. Yet, you can bring those experiences with others with you in the here and now through treasured memory. Even in the face of betrayal, you can embrace your truth and the closeness that once was, and the pure intent you generated when others were invested in ulterior motives. Precious memories need not be abandoned. Loved ones who are now deceased can be alive in your heart. We all live in a nanosecond of present time and then it too becomes historical. So we hold precious experience by treasuring its memory in our hearts. Learn to address abandonment by taking your precious personal intents and initiatives with you in your heart. The good in all the relationships you have ever experienced can dwell inside of you no matter what others choose to do. When you consider the power and potential that exists within, you never need to be dominated by abandonment again.