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Survive, Transform, Soar! - Issue #50
Addiction, Spirituality & Toxic Relationships
Steps Two and Three
Article by: Rivka, A. Edery, MSW, LCSW in SurviveTransformSoar.com | Friday, February 23, 2018
Last quarter, I talked about the role that the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous can play in recovery from trauma, whether experienced in childhood or as an adult in a toxic relationship.

In fact, although anyone can be lured into a toxic relationship, a long-term entanglement with a toxic partner is often the result of traumatic childhood experiences.

Toxic Relationships Are Similar to Addictions
The large ACE Study has shown that most addiction is rooted in childhood trauma, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). As a survivor of a toxic relationship, I’m sure you understand how ‘addicted’ someone can be to another person, even when you know that person is not good for you.

In addition, after leaving a toxic relationship there are withdrawal symptoms, similar to what addicts experience when they stop using, that can be so intense you return to your former partner just to relieve the pain.

This is why The Twelve Steps of AA can be so helpful in recovering from a toxic relationship. As I wrote last quarter, the first step in recovery from any addiction is the admission and acceptance that you are powerless (but not helpless) over the traumatic events you experienced.
Relationship addiction is every bit as powerful as other addictions.
This quarter, we will look at Steps Two and Three, how ending our sense of isolation can support our recovery and the importance of trust and action in overcoming old behaviors.

In STEP TWO you come to believe that a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.

In social work we say: “Start from where the client is.” This applies to trust issues: if you feel you cannot trust enough to ask for help, then you have just identified your starting point. You will begin your journey from the place of “I don’t/can’t trust.”

During your personal process of recovery from trauma, by applying the Twelve Steps, you will learn the difference between belief and trust. You can believe that a spiritual power exists, but that does not mean that you necessarily trust that power.

It is true that traumatic events shake up your world and have you questioning the meaning of life; this creates barriers to trust. The goal of trusting a power greater than you can be an exacting taskmaster. As a result, many survivors are attempting to do much more to heal than what once was just a longing.

Being in a toxic relationship usually leads partners to feel they have lost some part of themselves. Having the courage to take your first steps in recovery lays down the bricks on your path, so that you may “come to believe” that you can be restored to wholeness.

When you apply Step Two to your own life, you can begin the process of developing a sense of trust for safe others. The essence of Step Two is coping with loss, including grieving for what is now gone and cannot be undone (perhaps you were once a very trusting person, innocent and vulnerable, and something or someone robbed that from you).

Step Two is also about learning to know a Power greater than yourself as a loving, sustaining energy, not as an authority figure that will harm or control you.

In addition, in Step Two you begin to achieve some cognitive understanding that no matter what happened to you, a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity and integrity. Think about this for a moment. You are not to be blamed for your loss of trust or any other reaction or formed beliefs. It was a perfect response in the context of what happened.

In STEP THREE you make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand “God.”

If you have worked Steps One and Two with a safe and trusted person, you will have surrendered and demonstrated your willingness to try a new approach to your life experiences.
Learning to trust again--yourself, others, a "higher power"--is among the hardest tasks of toxic relationship recovery.
When you admit your powerlessness over your traumatic history, you learn a comforting and critical truth: that you experienced certain painful life events that you absolutely could not have controlled. You were also not always in control of the coping patterns that have emerged. For some survivors, this can be a frightening and humbling experience. 

In addition to your traumatic life experiences, there are numerous things in life you cannot control. Your willingness to view your experiences in a different light infuses you with a new sense of hope and relief. However, if you do not translate your hope into action, you will revert to old behaviors.

Your old behaviors, formulated by you as coping mechanisms, usually leave you feeling resentful, frustrated and angry. As a trauma survivor, you try to be in control in many ways. Using your sexuality as punishment or reward, using guilt, dishonesty or “learned helplessness,” you try to protect yourself from further pain, even if those behaviors no longer serve you.

Another very common dysfunctional behavioral approach in dealing with people is trying to “take care of” or “fix” things, even if it is unsolicited, unnecessary or inappropriate. Some of you may resort to threatening others, manipulating or bullying to get your way, even though these tactics are not necessarily used maliciously.

Your willingness to receive the care of a power greater than yourself will produce a life-changing transformational shift because it opens you to new, broader possibilities beyond your prior coping strategies. You participate in rather than try to control life. No one gets anything right without an appropriate amount of practice and patience; this step is no different.

Connecting with a Higher Power
It’s not uncommon for people to lose contact with their spirituality in a toxic relationship, even if this has been an important component of your life before meeting the toxic partner. Over time, your attention tends to shift from yourself and your relationship with a higher power to a focus on the toxic partner, gradually eroding your sense of self. If this has happened to you, here is an exercise that can help bring a spiritual connection into your life.

Create two lists. On the first list, write every characteristic that your ’perfect Higher Power’ does not have. On the second list, write all the characteristics that your ‘perfect Higher Power’ does have. Allow yourself to be creative, bold, courageous, open-minded and truly reflective of what you dream for in this ultimate connection.
Honest. Open. Willing. (HOW to create spiritual connection instead of addictive attachment)
When you are finished, see if you notice any patterns. For example, you may notice that with each quality you listed in the “not have” column, you were once hurt in this way.

Perhaps you are still being hurt by such qualities, either from yourself or from someone else. In the “does have” column, you may notice that you are deeply touched by these qualities, either by having them yourself or through other people. (Trauma and Transformation: A 12-Step Guide, pg. 121, Edery, R. 2013) 

As you complete this exercise, do you notice feelings of gratitude arising? Can you express those directly to a Higher Power, whether within yourself or outside?

You will find that your openness will come and go. However, as long as you remain on your personal spiritual path, a little bit of faith is enough to bring you back. When you feel like giving up, remember that you are wired for growth and change (neuro-plasticity).

By remaining honest, open and willing (H.O.W), you will be in the best position to change any negative and false beliefs about your Higher Power, yourself and other people.

Good luck on your healing journey…and trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
*  *  *
Rivka A. Edery, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., (RivkaEdery.com) is a highly intuitive licensed clinical social worker specializing in trauma recovery and spirituality. Her books include Trauma and Transformation: A 12-Step Guide and Hear Me Sing Book I.
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