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Thumb-Thing Wrong: Recovery Reveals What We Never Learned

Thumb-Thing Wrong: Recovery Reveals What We Never Learned

As we know, an eating disorder can often be accompanied with other disorders. Today, we tell a story of a woman struggling with addiction in addition to her eating disorder. 

“I’m 25 days clean!,” Brenda proudly proclaims. “But I notice I am getting so irritable. Yesterday I was Miss Road Rage on the way home from work. And I almost wanted to slug somebody when I saw the office coffee pot was empty this morning. What’s going on?!”

Any unhealthy habit or addiction represents a good habit never learned, a healthy attitude or coping strategy not yet adopted. It represents insufficient self-control, some kind of delayed maturation, some missing skills.

When a child continues to suck their thumb after a certain age, we see it as immature. We expect them to learn to soothe themselves in a more grown up way, and the longer they indulge in it, the longer they don’t learn anything better.

Development on Hold

So it is with any compulsive behavior or addiction. Once we adopt these as coping mechanisms for unwanted feelings or situations, we don’t learn healthier ways. Some aspect of maturation stops at that point. That means that when we try to stop our habit, we have to restart the learning process from where we left off.

In other words, if we are 30 years old and we started our habit at age 15, then there is some part of us stuck at age 15 still. There are certain basic things we have never learned, a certain growth that has never taken place.

That’s why, without our habit, we may find ourselves whining like a teenager in stressful circumstances. We fly off the handle over an inconvenience. We have zero patience. Everyone is annoying. We want to go off and sulk somewhere. It is can be mystifying and embarrassing, but this is to be expected.As we stop our habit, we have to restart the learning process from where we left off.

Learning Skills

There is no shortcut around this, though. We still just have to learn whatever we never learned back then.

And that brings us to those skill deficits. Not only have we not learned certain kinds of self control, we also have not learned proper self care and how to manage situations. 

A​nything that serves as a drug is a substitute for good healthy habits. Think overuse of coffee as a substitute for good sleep habits. Drinking alcohol to unwind instead of learning real relaxation skills.

So the person with the unhealthy habit usually has to learn to care for themselves in some way—emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually.

To do this, we have to learn certain skills—stress release, caring for others, managing anger, recovering from hurts, forgiveness of grievances, making friends, assertiveness, conflict resolution, and so on. That may sound intimidating, but you can tackle them bit by bit and make solid progress, especially with the help of a mentor, coach or counselor.

This is why these kinds of healthy habits are things that we need to learn at the same time as we wean ourselves (oops, no pun intended!) off our unhealthy dependence on our habit. It makes our freedom and recovery truly sustainable.

Written by John R. Williams, MA LMHC, Mental Health Therapist for The Center • A Place of HOPE. John seeks to not only empower individuals to find peace and fulfillment, but also establish warm and strong relationships. Located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and more.

Can Marriage Be Better Now Than Before a Crisis?

Can Marriage Be Better Now Than Before a Crisis?

One of my clients had had his marriage blow up in his face only months before. His pornography habit had been discovered yet again–after repeated promises of “I’m quitting now”–and his wife was so fed up she had left the house for a week. (It could just as easily been any other bad habit or addiction that had been kept secret.)

When he had contacted me, he was desperate to save his marriage and family.

Now I asked him, how would you rate things at home these days, as compared to before that phone call asking for help? On a scale of 1-100%, how much of the former warmth, closeness and romantic connection has been restored?

“More than 100%,” was his surprising answer. “Really?,” I asked. “How could that be?”

Before the crisis, he told me, his porn habit had blocked his wholehearted connection to his wife. He had been dishonest, hiding, guilt-ridden and preoccupied mentally, emotionally and sexually with hundreds of digital women. ​

His disconnection from his wife had not only left her feeling abandoned, even if she could not know why. It had also left him lonelier and emptier, and drained the relationship of vitality. 

There had been a “third party” in the marriage—as there always is when there is a compulsion or addiction—and this parasite was damaging both of them, and the marriage too.

Free to Invest

Now he was more present, involved, attuned to his wife, and both of them were reaping the benefits. (His daughter was getting more of his investment, as well, to their mutual joy.) ​

He could give of himself freely, unconstrained by secrecy and distraction. “I can just be myself,” he said, without worrying about managing his habit and the lies that conceal it. And he was thoroughly enjoying being with his best friend and lover again, enjoying that affection and intimacy that only partners sharing everything in their lives can know.

Of course, there are good reasons to find this hard to understand. Let’s compare the marriage to a bank account. Loving investments represent deposits and selfish actions represent withdrawals. Certainly, the betrayal involved in the porn habit and the deceptions was like a huge withdrawal—wiping out what had taken years to accumulate. How could that be reversed in a matter of months?

Fortunately, there had been enough “funds” accumulated in the marriage account—warm memories, goodwill, shared commitments—that this incident did not wipe them out immediately and prompt his wife to leave him. Still, he had known emotional resources were very low and if he did not shore up the account somehow and fast, he was afraid it would quickly run into the red.

Now he was saying that not only had they managed to restore the former “assets” in their marriage, but they actually increased them! 

New Priorities

This is because the crisis had caused him to reprioritize his wife and child, so that he was investing quality time on a regular basis. It had also forced them both to have frank discussions where they shared their deepest fears and concerns, and bared their hearts to each other.

I’m guessing that it probably also shook up the couple’s former pattern of over-focusing on parenting and living parallel lives. It got them back to focusing on each other (which is best for the child, too).

How did he do it? When I say he had come to me desperate, it is important to note he was also determined. He had told me how he had quit smoking before and he would do the same with this bad habit. He challenged himself and it mobilized his competitive spirit. He firmly set his intention—“No failure this time.”

He enlisted my aid. He did his recovery work. He brought his home office downstairs into the public area, so he would no longer be isolated and tempted. He would feel the presence of his wife and daughter and remind himself of who and what he really loved. 

Paying Off

And he gave his time and energy to his family. They became his stress relief, his entertainment, his excitement, to replace his unhealthy habit. And it was paying off.

Is he doing everything perfectly? No. Is he immune to a possible relapse? No. Is it guaranteed he will not have any more painful and tense moments with his wife? No. Was everything in the marriage stronger than before? No, he conceded. 

The trust is far from where it had been. He knew it will take time to rebuild that after he had broken his promises repeatedly. He has to prove himself reliable and clean for many months before she can realistically fully let down her guard.

But he has never been happier in his marriage, and they are well on their way to more than fully healing their relationship.

And I have seen other couples like his, where both the partners say that though they could never have wished for such a terrible crisis, their marriage is much improved. And they have grown immensely as individuals.

Therapist Robert Weiss expresses this hope well in the case of infidelity:

“You may not believe this, given the current state of your relationship, but in time, if you sincerely follow the [right steps], your relationship with your spouse can and will be better than ever.

“No, it will not look or feel the way it did before you cheated or while you were cheating, but that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

“​When you become an open book with your mate, behaving in trustworthy, rigorously honest ways in all facets of your life, you become much more intimate and emotionally connected.”

From “Out of the Doghouse: A Step by Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating.”

And so, it can be better than before.

Written by John R. Williams, MA LMHC, Mental Health Therapist for The Center • A Place of HOPE. John seeks to not only empower individuals to find peace and fulfillment, but also establish warm and strong relationships. Located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and more. 

Perfectionism and Self-Esteem

Perfectionism and Self-Esteem

Perfectionists walk an incredibly narrow road. There can be no deviation from the prescribed path, no sidetracks, and certainly no missteps. There can be no slowing or stopping for others, who are expected to keep up and keep straight, regardless. Perfectionists understand the road is going to be difficult and take great pride in navigating it successfully. They must be constantly on guard for any obstacle in the path, any breath of wind that might knock them off their course. Vigilance and an ongoing state of alertness are key.

With perfectionism, there is no standing down, no acceptable periods of relaxation. Perfectionism is, therefore, both exhausting and unattainable. Addiction can creep in and promise a form of momentary relief from the unrelenting anxiety of trying to be perfect. Addiction can also promise to numb those times when the reality of the unattainable becomes overwhelmingly hard to bear. Addiction promises you can spend a few hours looking away from the shame, blame, and guilt nipping at your heels unless you are perfect. Addiction promises to shield you temporarily from the fear that you are, sadly and tragically, like everyone else—flawed, imperfect, unworthy.

Self-Esteem

Angela felt she didn’t deserve to be happy. After more probing, I discovered she never had. Any success she’d experienced had been a sort of “cheat,” she said. If people really knew who she was or how much work she’d put into it or any number of factors, they would know she didn’t deserve success and it would be taken away. How could anything she did be worthy when she wasn’t worthy herself?

Angela grew up in a household where nothing she did was right. When she brought home good grades, it was assumed the teacher hadn’t applied the proper standards or she’d gotten away with something. Good things were suspect, but bad things were expected because of who she was. She knew who she was—the one who would “never amount to anything.” She was the one who would “never be like [her] sister.” The one who couldn’t “do anything right to save [her] life,” even though she always tried.

Angela was deeply ashamed of her addiction; part of her was also incredibly angry. She was angry because being trapped in the addiction proved she was weak and everything that had been said about her was true. All her life, Angela kept trying to “make up” for the mistakes she’d made, and the addiction kept putting her further and further behind. She’d never catch up, and with the weight of the addiction added in, catching up seemed to take more energy than she had. She’d been foolish to think she could ever do or be anything other than a failure. “What good is today,” she’d asked, “if I can’t have tomorrow?”

Angela’s addiction subverted the positive roles of shame, blame, and guilt and used them to convince her she wasn’t worth a positive tomorrow. She was especially susceptible to this tactic, since shame, blame, and guilt had always been used as weapons against her while she was growing up. Addiction strips away self-esteem. This can be particularly damaging when you started out with little or none in the first place, as Angela did.

For years, I’ve been speaking out against the tremendous damage done, especially to children, through the tactics of emotional abuse. My book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse has been a pivotal resource in this effort for more than twenty years.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

Who Are You Without Your Addiction?

Who Are You Without Your Addiction?

Once you give up on the idea of a future where your addiction is “manageable,” you must contemplate a future without the addiction in any form. The question then becomes, “Who am I without this?” The addiction has been such an integral part of your life that you have difficulty imagining what life could be, who you could be, without it.

This point was brought home to me last year. I was working with a woman who was trying to overcome a prescription drug addiction. Amy was in the phase of recovery where she was ready to accept the negatives of her addiction but fearful of what life would mean without it. During this time, she got a card from an old friend. She said they’d drifted apart because they no longer lived in the same state. Their correspondences, Amy told me, were usually a yearly holiday missive giving a personal and family update. The midyear card came as a surprise and contained a picture of the two of them that was more than thirty years old. Amy showed me the candid shot of a group of teenagers and asked if I could pick her out.

As I struggled to avoid embarrassment by choosing the wrong person, Amy said it was a picture of her church youth group getting ready to take off for a day hike. When I didn’t pick her out right away, she gratefully let me off the hook and pointed herself out. She lamented how far she’d come from that young, smiling teenage girl. “I can’t remember who I was,” Amy said, “and if I give this up, I can’t imagine who I’ll be.”

I believe this question of who you’ll be without your addiction is a common one. Addiction has the power to co-opt the person you are and change you into someone different, altering your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. The person you were becomes a faded, distant memory. You may look in a mirror and feel unsure of who you were, ashamed of who you are, and fearful of becoming anyone else.

I think people are fearful of giving up an addiction because they believe they will be in pain without it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in different ways, though rarely will they use the word pain. Instead, they say without their addiction, they will be frustrated or bored, anxious or afraid. They tell me the addiction, whatever it is, helps them overcome being depressed or angry. In the deepest throes of my overworking, my pain might have carried the name unsuccessful or failure.

Are you struggling with addictive behaviors and feeling depressed?  Do you feel that your life is not in your control? The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and speak with a confidential specialist.  Begin the healing process and have confidence that there is hope, and that joy is attainable.