Monthly Archives: August 2016

How Recovery Creates Loneliness

I’ve been challenged once again by Mike to write on a chosen topic and today, it is “How Recovery Creates Loneliness”. I’m very interested to see what his take on this topic is. As usual, I think we will have some similarities, but definitely unique takes on this topic.

I think most people from the outside would think that participating in an active recovery lifestyle (by that, we mean working a 12 step program for any of a variety of purposes from codependency to substance addictions and lots in between) would lead to anything BUT a feeling of loneliness. I rarely go without at least a meeting or two each week and often, I go to 4 or 5 of them for my own healing and growth. I talk to friends in recovery through Facebook, phone, text, and in person on a daily basis. I attend retreats. I generally have a wonderful time at all of these events and am surrounded by people that I love.

There are several definitions for loneliness in the dictionary and all the above activities definitely mean a recovery lifestyle does not create a certain type of loneliness, at least for me. Loneliness: 1. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse, support, etc.: 2. lone; solitary; without company; companionless. By either of these definitions, I’m definitely not lonely. In fact, as an outgoing introvert, I usually enjoy my interactions, but often have to create my alone time so I’m not overwhelmed by my active recovery lifestyle.

That being said, I do truly identify with Mike’s chosen topic. Another definition of loneliness (the one I often identify with) is “standing apart; isolated”.

The program I work is for codependency, of which I became a true master over the course of 46 years. I won’t go into a long dissertation on codependency (more information here) other than to say that for me, it was initially good intentions to help others which eventually ran amok due to my personality, family of origin and life circumstances.  This evolved into controlling behavior, an overwhelming feeling of being responsible for others, inability to identify my own needs and emotions, poor communication and ultimately, a very unhealthy inability to set boundaries and keep them (both for my own benefit and those around me).  Pretty much, I was a mess in a nice package.

If one actually takes the time to think about how unhealthy it is to live like this, the only way for me to work a program of recovery from this is to create and enforce some “loneliness” in my life. I can’t learn to identify my own emotions by consistently relying on others to identify them for me. I can’t learn to set and respect boundaries by being unhealthily enmeshed with others. I have learned I need to make myself “stand apart and be isolated” in order to reorient my brain to healthy thinking. I try to rely on honest communication with God during these times rather than unhealthy communication with others, which I still have the habit of falling into more often than I’d like.

Now, let me be entirely honest…sometimes doing this makes me “feel” lonely…that is, a feeling of sadness caused by lack of companionship. And sometimes that happens even in the midst of a huge group of people. I know that I’m not totally identifying with their thoughts and feelings, so that makes me “feel” lonely. In fact, sometimes I feel downright weird in the midst of many people and feel the need to extricate and enforce some solitude. But that’s ok. It’s part of my healing process. I don’t always have to agree or identify with people like I used to feel like I had to. This is huge growth for me. The only way that’s happened is by being ok with being lonely sometimes in order to learn who God created me to be.  I don’t always like it, but I always need it.

If you give a writer a pruning….

I’ve been very irritated lately by one of my hibiscus plants. Actually, it’s like a monstrous hibiscus tree, or it used to be. It grows on the side of my house and since I moved in last March, it grew from a few feet tall to reaching the second story of my house. I was so proud of its growth and fullness, but it rarely bore any of its beautiful red orange tropical flowers. Yesterday I looked at it and realized not only was it not bearing flowers, but it was getting very scraggly on the bottom and was basically a bunch of sticks with tons of gorgeous deep green leaves at the top. Time to prune (although as a transitioning Yankee I’m not entirely sure it was technically the season to prune it).

So, this morning, I set out to cut that monster back in hopes of getting more fullness and flowers; in essence I wanted it to be full, beautiful and accomplishing its given mission as flora in my yard. When I was done, I looked at the stubby, non flowering remnants and thought, “Oh, what have I done to this poor thing?”

As I was chopping up the 12 foot long branches of my hibiscus, I was considering how like my own life this endeavor was. A few years ago, I was in my mid 40’s, seemingly flourishing (those deep green leaves at the top that people saw and felt reflected a good life). However, I soon learned through a series of crises that deep down, I had become a bunch of sticks that didn’t bear much fruit. Forget the beautiful flowers…maybe others felt they were there, but I knew they weren’t. I needed some pruning.

In recovery, there is a promise that “God will do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.” I never would have chosen to prune myself, just like my hibiscus would have happily kept on growing past the roof of my house and growing some bushy leaves at the very tips while looking worse and worse at its base. I really didn’t like having the metaphorical ugly branches of my life cut to the core. Often, I felt like the raw, light green chopped nubs of the hibiscus; I was raw, exposed and not looking at all beautiful and growing.  But the God I know can take what happened in my life (I’m not one who thinks God “caused” the crises to teach me a lesson) and use it to make me stronger, more beautiful and flourishing.

What I know as an aspiring gardener is that pruning is essential to health, both in plants and in life. Without my life being chopped to the basics, I would not be the person I am today. I have way more substance at my core and far more fruit in my life, my flowers, if you will. I still have those ugly sticks that come out every so often, but they are now covered with soft leaves that cushion and shield some of what used to be exposed, unbending branches.

I have realized I tend to think in metaphors way more often than I used to and I hope it’s not irritating to those who choose to read my writing. As my friend, Mike, has told me, sometimes the most mundane things get him thinking and suddenly the need to write emerges. Same here. I know that thinking/writing is a new branch that emerged from my life pruning–I pray it continues to grow and flourish with beautiful flowers.  And I hope my hibiscus is ignorant of my non Texas gardening skills and decides to follow suit with lush greenery and gorgeous flowers.

Before and after of the thought provoking hibiscus (and yes, I know that it needs more sun.  The tree pruning will come after it cools off a bit!)

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