A Sociologist’s Investigation into Overcoming Misery Making Attachments
by Tim Sullivan
This article is designed to assist you in understanding how someone who is having a problem with substance abuse or chemical addiction can identify it. I also want to present a model of recovery that can assist you in understanding the necessary steps of recovery that will help prevent relapse.
Relapse is a failure in the recovery process. Therefore, in order to understand relapse, we first need to understand what recovery is. In this model, we will identify the recovery process as consisting of six developmental phases or stages.
Before we discuss chemical addiction, we need to identify two other types of addictions. One is the addiction to self-defeating behaviors which is named Codependency, and the second is the addiction to negative or false beliefs. The technical name I have given to the condition of being dependent on false psychological processes is Pseudopsychic Dependence.
Understanding issues of recovery and relapse is the primary purpose of this presentation. However, to fully understand these issues, we first need to understand the nature of addiction itself and how it functions in the addict’s life.
Cycles of Addiction
Let us begin by identifying addictions as a cycle consisting of four components. The first component that makes up the addiction cycle is short-term gratification or pleasure resulting from chemical use. This initial positive experience causes the person to assume it is good for them.
The second component is long-term pain or dysfunction. This pain is part of withdrawal from the chemical and is identified as abuse. When dysfunction in any area of a person’s life occurs from chemical use, it is then termed abuse. This does not constitute addiction. It does mean there is a problem that could be the beginning of an addiction cycle.
The addiction is evident when the long-term pain triggers an obsession or addictive thinking. This occurs when there is continuous thinking about the positive effects of using the drug. This obsession is coupled with a compulsion or an irrational urge or craving to use the drug to get the positive effects even when the user knows it will hurt them in the long run. This obsession/compulsion leads to what identifies the addiction — loss of control over behavior.
The fourth element that makes up the addiction cycle is progression. Addictions progress and create bio-psycho-social damage. This means that the health of the body (biological or physical health), the mind (psychological or the health of the personality), and relationships with others (social health) are damaged. Again, this results from loss of control over the chemical.
Now some people think that all they have to do to recover from the chemical addiction is to repair the bio-psycho-social damage caused by the chemical addiction. Therefore, they go out and repair the damage to their body, they repair their psychological damage and they repair their social relationships. Now, at that point they think they can take another drink or drug. However, the idea is that once a person becomes addicted to a chemical, the body never forgets. Any future use puts the person in jeopardy of starting the addiction cycle all over again.
Then we have the issue of addiction to self-defeating behaviors. It is so important to distinguish between a chemical addict and a person who is addicted to self-defeating behaviors. In this presentation, these types of behaviors are identified as codependent or adult child issues. These issues are derived from a family of origin that was dysfunctional and failed to meet the developmental needs of the child and forced the child to develop a defensive posture.
The model I will be presenting here will help identify people who need to recover from either chemical dependency or codependency and will also help those who need to recover from both conditions. Unresolved codependency or family of origin issues are a chief cause for relapse for the unaware addict. Becoming aware of the way these self-defeating personality styles interfere with the recovery process is an important part of understanding relapse.
This model can also be helpful for the individual who has not experienced problems with alcohol or drugs. It can also help a person without a history of codependency. In particular, it can help that person who has been traumatized or severely violated and continues to experience symptoms of the trauma that manifest as a pervasive pattern of negative thoughts and false beliefs. These erroneous thoughts and beliefs distort the person’s perception about self, others, the world and God.
The trauma can be a single event or multiple events of a traumatic nature. The categories can apply to natural disasters such as fire, flood or earthquake, or something like a single episode of rape. The multiple events of trauma can occur in abusive and/or alcoholic or addictive families where the trauma is frequently chronic and abuse the norm. This can result in post traumatic stress disorder and is identified in this model as the causative factor in the development of the false beliefs mentioned earlier. These beliefs create what I refer to as the victimized personality or traumatized self.
Essentially, this model is designed to help the person who is suffering from Chemical Dependence, Codependence, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which we identified as Pseudopsychic Dependence. It is the codependency and PTSD that prevents the person from negotiating the normal tasks of recovery from a chemical addiction.
Phases of Recovery
With that backdrop, I want to make note that it is the biological damage that separates the chemical addict from the codependent and PTSD sufferer. Biologically, all chemical addicts have brain damage or brain dysfunction. As a result of creating tolerance and withdrawal from an addictive chemical, the brain will always react in an addictive manner whenever there is further use. Therefore, recovery begins by first recognizing the addictive nature of the condition and secondly abstaining from the addictive agent. Then, biological healing ensues.
The third phase of recovery is psychological healing. As the body progressed in the addiction creating tolerance and withdrawal, a personality structure based on denial, delusion and rationalization also developed in concert with the biological progression. This is referred to as the addictive personality.
Before discussing the fourth phase of recovery, the social area, I want to give a working definition of personality in order for this model to make sense. Briefly, a personality or personality structure is the habitual way an individual perceives, images, thinks, feels, acts and relates to self, others and the environment. What differentiates one personality structure from another is the value system and the primary principle that motivates each structure. For instance, a recovering alcoholic values sobriety or abstinence. This is the sober personality. This same individual after a six-pack of beer or a line of cocaine would have a value system based on the polar opposite of sobriety, alcohol or drug use. This same idea is the means we will use to understand the codependent self (compensatory personality) and the traumatized self (victimized personality).
After the addictive personality is dismantled, the person has achieved sobriety. Now the person can turn around and balance out their life by repair-ing the interpersonal damage that resulted from the addiction and develop new, more intimate relationships that support this renewed identity. This is what recovery looks like. It is repairing the bio-psycho-social damage resulting from addiction and moving into the next level.
The fifth or next level of recovery is productive living or finding meaning and purpose in your lifestyle. It is continued psychological and spiritual growth and development. It is the process of becoming the person you were meant to be.
The final stage in recovery is maintenance. Maintaining the gains made in recovery and continuing to grow through the life cycles. This is the goal of treatment and people do recover. There is recovery and that is the good news.
However, there are some people who repair the bio-psycho-social damage caused by the chemical addiction but fail to be productive in their lifestyle. Their personality does not produce positive outcomes. For that matter, their personality produces negative outcomes. These are the self-defeating behaviors that make up the codependent personality. For these individuals, they need to repair their pre-addictive personality.
Now this is where some alcoholics and addicts relapse because they continue to focus on their addictive personality when the focus needs to be on the codependent, pre-addictive personality or the self/personality they brought into the chemical addiction prior to the delusional system that spawned the addictive personality structure.
Six Stages of Recovery
Recovery from these codependent symptoms also entails a six-stage process. First, the individual needs to become aware, consciously aware, of the self-defeating patterns of behavior or the things that are not working in their life. They need to put a name on the things they do that prevent them from getting what they want. These are the behaviors they are addicted or overly attached to.
The second step is detachment. After identifying the negative, self-defeating behaviors the person needs to stop acting out the behavior. They need to stop reacting. They need to learn how to be still and calm the mind.
The third step is to change the behavior. Do something different. This will break the personal and interpersonal patterns of self-defeating behavior that occur when the thoughts and feelings that precede the self-defeating behavior are realized and acted upon accordingly.
The fourth step is the social. As a result of the person changing their behavior, all of the social systems they are involved in are changed systems. The person needs to understand that this may cause conflicts but the change and benefits are well worth the effort.
The above stages outline the processes necessary to repair the bio-psycho-social damage caused by the development of a self-defeating personality style. The fifth stage of recovery is the experience of psychospirtual transformation. When the person got sober, they had a psychological transformation but now a spiritual transformation is needed because the damage to the personality was done when the personality was developing and their soul was unfolding.
The sixth and final stage is continued growth and development. Maintaining again the gains made and reaching greater levels of self-actualization.
We can see by this that one does not have to be an alcoholic or addict to benefit from this model. A typical codependent could use the six stages of recovery to look at themselves and use this as a frame of reference to initiate change. Again, there are those who, even when they repair the damage of their codependent personality or family of origin dysfunction, fail to experience the psychospiritual transformation. They still do not feel happy, joyous and free.
The reason the person fails to grow and develop at this point is due to the unresolved traumatic experiences that resulted in the negative or false beliefs discussed earlier. These issues are the PTSD problems that prevent the person from experiencing high levels of self esteem. The person has internalized toxic shame as a result of being violated or traumatized.
Now the person needs to understand a recovery process for these PTSD issues identified earlier as the condition of addiction to false beliefs called Pseudopsychic Dependence. The first of the six stage process of recovery is acknowledgment. The person needs to acknowledge the extent of the pain and suffering that was incurred. In other words, the individual has to identify their victimhood.
If you are a victim or if you have been victimized and you are not aware of it or do not recognize or acknowledge it, then you are going to continue to suffer. You need to realize the extent of your suffering caused by the trauma and/or abuse. Next, you need to reconstruct the history of the story of your traumatic past. This is the second step. You objectify the victimization by realizing that it continues to live in your imagination and you have been subject to its negative effect. By acknowledging and reconstructing the story, you are allowed to begin the process of objectifying the experience or detaching from it. The reconstruction of the victimized history will allow you to mourn or grieve which is the third phase of the recovery process. There needs to be a period of mourning and grief work for the loss of innocence. This is what happens to all victims — they lose their innocence.
The fourth phase is empowerment. As a result of the grief work, the person is empowered. Now they can choose because they have their power back as a result of resolving the past. They have detached from those negative attachments that prevented forgiveness to occur and self esteem to emerge. This is freedom, this is recovery and this is the goal of treatment.
Now, the fifth and sixth stages of full recovery occur. In the fifth phase, there is a reconnection. The individual is reconnected to self, others, the world or environment and God or the Universe. He or she has reached the sixth level or phase of full recovery which is integration. The individual is in full realization of Self.
Change is the key. This model is presented to help you begin by putting names to the various problems. Having a solid understanding of the recovery process we reviewed can help in figuring out how this model can be helpful. The idea that there are three areas of relapse and a sober personal-ity structure based on the reality principle is a good beginning. I invite you to begin the journey of self exploration. If you discover that you have a problem in any of the areas reviewed in this presentation, the good news is that treatment works. There is recovery.•
Tim Sullivan is an Advanced Certified Relapse Prevention Specialist who lives in Boston, MA. Over many years of practice he has united many different approaches to overcoming addiction into a new model for letting go of self-destructiveness. As a correspondence student of the School of Metaphysics, he had been able to expand his model even further into the realm of spiritual addictions.
©2000 Vol. 18 No. 2
copyright© 2002, School of Metaphysics