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Life sucks! Every addict I have ever met can remember a time that this statement was true. It’s a time when you were backed into a corner, didn’t have a pot to piss in, all the credits in your wallet had been used and you were faced with yet another “Come Home to Jesus” board meeting with yourself and hurting loved ones. For many of us, there wasn’t just one but many flashpoint experiences triggered by addictive behavior.
When will I ever be done! Declarations made to end the destructive behavior now have a hollow ring. The only words that echo in your inner emptiness is “Life Sucks” and no one argues with you. You look into the eyes of your loved ones and you know they want to but just can no longer believe your words. You have betrayed and lied to them too many times.
Hitting bottom is a lonely experience that is more defined by the intensity of emotional pain you sit with in the scenario you face than it is by the accumulation of things you have lost in your life. People who hit bottom don’t necessarily make positive change. Many just get in line for one more roller coaster ride.
So where do you go when you dig yourself into a hole and life sucks? Mother Teresa once spoke “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Sometimes all the places you might turn are no longer available.
Sally had every reason to isolate and avoid community when she first came to see me in my office. Emotionally, she was fragmented. She suffered horrendous physical, ritual, and sexual abuse from her parents who were involved in a cult. Her parents solicited her to other members of the family and cult. She experienced everything that would make a family unsafe. She fled from this frightful gruesome family to a life on the streets.
While learning plenty of street savvy, she also learned to stuff her sorrows and the sadism she’d experienced throughout her childhood with a cocktail of addictions. When she initially sought professional counsel, she experienced more abuse and betrayal from those who were supposed to be healing and safe. She learned to deaden herself to the world at large and to disconnect from community. Eventually, she decided to attend a highly regarded intensive outpatient program, which involves sixty-five hours of therapy in eight days.
When she began her plunge experience, there was no trust, only desperation. However, as the days unfolded, her barriers began to come down. Maybe it was the intensity of one session after another, daily, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and continuing until 8:30 p.m. It could have been the many different approaches that her relentless counselors used. Whatever it was, she reached a watershed point where she made a decision to open her heart to the possibility of healing. As she progressed throughout the week, she made the decision that this would be her last attempt to find hope. She decided that she would do whatever it took to get healthy.
As she became committed to healing herself, she committed to integrating her fragmented inner self. She embraced the emotional pain that dominated her life, rather than medicate it with addiction. She resolved to attend 12-Step meetings to address her compulsive behaviors. Though dominated with fear and full of anxiety, slowly she shifted and allowed her 12-Step community to become a touchstone and signpost for reality in her recovery. Sharing her brokenness in community provided relational safety for Sally when there was no place else to go.
When there is relational safety in community, anything and everything can be explored and sifted and sorted through. Pain becomes the fellowship’s touchstone and signpost indicating imbalance in life. Community provides a sound studio to listen to pain’s message. Common shared brokenness is its draw, not common likeness or interest. Becoming emotionally naked by sharing our deepest feelings and secrets is expected. It’s a space where we can fit and be accepted as we are. It is a sanctuary in which to learn how we can wear our own skin well. It’s a space to accept our own acceptance while staring at imperfection. It is a place to grow ourselves into adult maturity and discover inner brilliance.
You won’t heal in isolation. Don’t make the mistake of going it alone. Create a safe cocoon of community to expose ugly intent, immature response, and emotional adolescence. Providing a container to express overwhelming sadness (usually via anger) with total acceptance is usually transformative and life changing. It requires the courageous choice to be real and vulnerable. Within the context of groups, I have experienced men sharing their deepest pain with blood curdling cries of remorse, loss, and loneliness. Group therapy that becomes community is based on the mutuality of common shared brokenness. When people compete and compare themselves to others who have shared, the mutuality evaporates and group effectiveness no longer exists.
The famous testimony from Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson—who was describing the night he paced back and forth in a lobby of a hotel in Akron, Ohio, craving for a drink—emphasized the power of mutuality. He said the impulse to drink was pushed out of his mind with the idea that “No, I don’t need a drink—I need another alcoholic.” This thought soon led him to connecting with Dr. Bob Smith, another alcoholic. Wilson later stated, “I knew I needed this alcoholic as much as he needed me.” This need for mutuality comes from common shared flaws and weakness. It creates a powerful oneness. This power is nurtured in a group through community spirit.
In community, there is shared vision, shared goals, and shared hope. There is healing power when a member courageously shares a truth he/she has not told to another living soul and then, in exchange, receives total love and acceptance from the group. There is healing when a member chooses to live in accountability and consultation with other group members. There is empowerment in a group when a group member, speaking from experience, confronts another member who is struggling to face the truth about his/her behavior. This makes the group powerful like no other.
So, when you look in the mirror and it tells you life sucks, there is a place you can go when it seems like there is no other. Transform your life by going to a meeting. You will be grateful you did.