Rev. Peter Fairbrother | Ministries in self-care
Addiction and the Wounded Healer
It is easy to see addiction as something out there, affecting others, nothing to do with ourselves.
Perhaps we might have ways of describing people with addiction to separate them off from us: junkies, druggies, etc. We label defensively... to set ourselves apart from those we perceive to carry the affliction of addiction. The 'not us'.
Yet the truth is we are all addicts in one way or another. At various points each of us are inhabitants of the 'realm of the hungry ghost'. We are all constantly seeking something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfilment.
We're all seeking ways to fill the void within us.
Johann Hari's work 'Chasing the Scream' explores addiction as a social construct, challenging the commonly held understanding of it as a predominately medical condition. He states that as social beings, when we feel disconnected or alienated, we experience pain. Addiction is a reaction to pain.
For some, addiction is manifest in substance misuse, for others its found in dependence on other things, as illustrated in the readings.
I wonder what each of us is addicted to?
Perhaps some of us addicted to the past, to holding on to how things used to be...
Or perhaps we are addicted to seeking the new? The next best thing...
Maybe we lives in fear of reflection, such that we dare not look back at all that has gone before.
Maybe we are addicted to rules and regulations?
To anxiety and the need to get things right?
Perhaps we are addicted to the illusion of control?
Or to the chains of power?
Perhaps we are addicted to our professional identities or social roles, and to the sense of security we derive from them... for without our sense of occupation, who are we... really?
And with this it might be that we are addicted to doing, to striving, to accomplishments, to goals, to the high of being busy...
What if we just... stopped.
I've heard it said that each minister, in essence, holds within them one sermon, which is delivered time and time again in a multitude of variations.
Reflecting on my own ministry to date I can see truth in this. I'm conscious of returning to some core themes in the services I give.
The themes of self-love, self-care, connection and community.
I talk about these things because they're alive to me through the life that I've lived,
the pain and the joy I've experienced, the wounds I've held and still hold.
In essence, they're part of my story.
And for me, stories are important because we are our stories: both those we create for ourselves and those created for us by others.
Our stories are powerful because we inhabit them.
We live them out, for good or ill.
For example, if we grow up feeling loved, we become that love, we shine that love into the world. Maybe not always, maybe not everyday, but we hold it in our hearts.
Conversely, if we go through childhood being told that we are stupid or worthless or unlovable this narrative can permeate our being to such an extent that we take on and act out these beliefs as our life unfolds.
- I'm not worthy
- I'm not good enough
- I'm not loveable
Wounds such as these become the quiet yet insistent back-seat drivers that steer our journey through life.
The stories we believe about ourselves, some arising from our wounds, will inform the choices we make, how we are, and what we do. In essence, we become the stories we're told. And in certain contexts we become their prisoner. For as long as we believe in them we'll live them out in endless replay. In essence, we become addicted.
Hari asserts that addiction and recovery from addiction is everyone's business -
to heal our world we must first attend to our own emotional wounds.
Our stories, our wounds, can be our teachers, teaching us something about ourselves. Indeed, embracing our wound as a part of ourselves is radically different to going around, avoiding it, or getting stuck in it and endlessly, obsessively recreating it.
This is the work of the 'wounded healer' - to journey into and through the wounding, to explore it, to learn from it, to be open to possibility of finding ourself travelling from it to somewhere new.
I believe we are all wounded healers.
With support, and care, and time and tenderness, each of us can nurture our capacity to be at home in the darkness of our own suffering and to find within it light - the source of our recovery.
I'm tickled by the following quote from Stephen Fry who said:
"Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it - that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing - an actor, a writer - I am a person who does things - I write, I act - and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun."
I believe we can liberate ourselves through story.
And the path through, of living and loving, letting go and recreating, isn't linear. In my experience it feels more like a spiral: a constant coming back to things you thought you understood to uncover deeper understandings. Glorious, frustrating, excruciating, liberating understandings!
Freedom from our addictions, from the old stories, the old wounds, can take a lifetime...
and then some... if we're prepared to do the work, if we're prepared to love ourselves enough to assess, reassess and address our behaviour and patterns of behaviour.
However, this isn't always possible. Jeff Brown writes:
"Not everyone will heal in this lifetime. It’s important that we accept and understand this. The perpetual emphasis on acknowledging and healing trauma is a beautiful thing, but its not for everyone. Because some of us don’t have the capacity to heal. Some can’t even get out of bed, because of the weight of their pain and the complexity of their trauma. Too much has happened, and there is no possibility of transformation. This is very hard to accept in our toxic positivity culture, one where trauma is the new buzz word and where people forget that they are not walking in someone’s else’s shoes. Just because you were able to heal parts of your past, doesn’t mean everyone can heal parts of theirs. We have all lived in a trauma inducing culture. Some of us didn’t make it through in one piece. And if we can just accept this, and honour and comfort them as they are without any effort to ‘heal’ them, we actually stand a chance of co-creating the kind of trauma-sensitive world that avoids this level of suffering altogether. Because trauma is perpetuated by insensitivity. Our tendency to turn a blind eye to the truth of people’s suffering, to shame them for not healing, to blame it on their karma and their choices, to ask them to 'count their blessings' is precisely the dissociative consciousness that perpetuates the trauma cycle. Yes, you want to help, but it just makes it worse. Better to accept people right where they are. Better to provide comfort to the fallen ones. That alone will heal the world."
I'm very fond of the words of Jeff Brown, and the other Jeff in my life, the poet Jeff Foster. The writings of both touch me deeply. I think the journey into holding and healing our addictions is best expressed by Jeff Foster who encapulates the essence of what is going on with these words:
"We are only seeking ourselves, in a million different ways, and addictions such as chocolate or alcohol or casino winnings never had the “power” to bring us home, ever. Our gurus never had the power we projected onto them. Addiction crumbles from the inside when we recognise how we are in essence, which is naturally at peace, naturally non-addicted, naturally complete, without needing external people or objects to complete it. The cycle of addiction is the cycle of self – and it can be broken, right where it begins. This is the exploration that all addiction, and indeed all suffering, invites us to, whether we see ourselves as “addicted” or not."
Jeff's words that return us to core message contained within Hari's work 'Chasing the Scream': the opposite of addiction isn't sobriety. It's connection with our self, and with each other. In Hari's words:
"It's all that will help [you] in the end. If you are alone, you cannot escape addiction. If you are loved, you have a chance. For a hundred years we have been singing war songs about addicts. All along, we should have been singing love songs to them."
Friends, let us begin by singing love songs to ourselves.