| Recovery |
“I am not looking to change myself anymore. I am fine tuning my listening heart to the lost and wounded parts of me that got buried in shame. They’ve been calling me all along. I just couldn’t hear them. These wounds have seeped honey, waiting in darkness for the alchemy of tenderness and acceptance to occur. I am here now. I am here.”~ Victoria M ~
Recently I did a session with a client of mine whose recovery journey I have had the privilege of witnessing over many years. My client Victoria (who has given her permission to be referenced in this article) has been in recovery for a very long time and as she emerges into a whole new recovery landscape we talked at length about the line between self-improvement and emotional violence. After the session she sent me the above message, which touched me deeply, and it got me thinking about what long term recovery actually means.
There are as many versions of recovery as there are recovering people, and I endeavor not to define recovery for other people. Every recovering person finds their own path, and in my view, the more self-defined and authentic it is, the greater the outcome. For me, I entered recovery at 22, barely able to tolerate being inside my own skin, filled with shame, self-hatred, confusion and despair, with zero capacity to find my way out of the internal hell I had plummeted into over the previous decade, and even less capacity to sort out the mess I had made of my own life whilst I was writhing around in that hell.
Recovery brought me home to myself and continues to do so. It brought me home to my family, my community, and to life itself. It has involved unearthing, rediscovering and growing the parts of me that got split off, denied or shamed out of existence in service of just surviving. It involved growing pieces that never actually developed. It has been a blooming of sorts, that emerged out of immense personal pain that I would have done anything to escape at the time but has ultimately been my making.
Recovery for me has been the process of turning the gift that came wrapped in everything I never wanted, into gold, and learning to inhabit the fullness of my own being, with my arm around my own vulnerability in place of my hand pushing it away.
Whilst I am not always sure how to define recovery for people, I am unequivocally sure when I am in the presence of it. And the presence of it has nothing to do with clean time or even abstinence. It also, as I see it, has little to do with whether people go to meetings or not, though of course there are many incredible people who have built gorgeous recoveries for themselves in 12 step fellowships. Clean time and embeddedness in 12 step meetings can be extremely valuable, but they are not determinants of true or lasting recovery and I do not see recovery through such a narrow lens as to imagine that the absence of these particular supports precludes recovery.
When I meet late-stage recovering people, their clean time is what I am least interested in. What I am most interested in is how much love they have for themselves, and to what degree they are living in their integrity. When I come across people who embody and exude recovery, love and integrity are always present in spades – both for self and others. These are not present at the expense of anger, pain, sadness and other difficult emotions. The whole gamut of human emotions and experience is allowed, but it is filtered through or washed with love and integrity.
The challenge for recovering people, who so often arrive in recovery flooded with shame and with strong impulses towards annihilating and hurting themselves, is to slowly disarm the self-destructive part of self, so that recovery does not become just another weapon against the self. An endless program of self-improvement driven by thinly veiled shame, self-hatred, rigidity and perfectionism is the counter-point to recovery.
Recovery invites us to become more of who we are, not less, and involves a radical self-acceptance that actually frees up energy for change and allows people to transform their lives.
Anna Lloyd is a Family Therapist at Byron Private and a Clinical Psychotherapist in Private Practice in Sydney’s Inner West, working with individuals, couples, families and groups. Trained in Gestalt Psychotherapy, Bowen Family Systems Theory and Systemic Family Constellation work, Anna is passionate about family systems and the power of systemic approaches to recovery and wellness.
Specialising in Addiction Recovery/Addictive Family Systems, Anna brings 15 years of experience living and practicing the work. She is strongly committed to trauma-informed therapeutic approaches, and values warm, holistic, body-inclusive, life-affirming therapy grounded in mindfulness, practical wisdom, and the science of relationship systems and the brain.
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“To know the world, first know yourself.
To change the world, first change yourself.”