Emerging From the Veil of Addiction

Trying to fix adult problems with an adolescent mind

Posted Oct 30, 2015

When self-medication winds its way into compulsive dependence, we give up a great deal: our power; what little control we may believe we have; a certain amount of dignity. Mostly, we give up ourselves. We disappear behind a veil that leaves us in a sort of social and emotional suspended animation and, when we reemerge, we are right where we were when we reached our initial tipping point.

The challenge this brings us, along with everything else, is that we are compelled to redefine our place in the world, relearning who we are and what we’re about. One of the most poignant descriptions of this comes from Eric Clapton. Famous for his drug and alcohol fueled brilliance which, at times, had him playing entire concerts lying on the stage, he recounts that, when he finally got clean, he spent an entire year in his grandmother’s garage relearning the guitar—not so much how to play, but his relationship to it and his music. Some might say this is akin to God remaking the universe after an epic binge.

What Clapton’s story points to is the stasis—even stagnation—that accompanies addiction. We are trapped in the moment we pick up in earnest and, when we are finally able to draw back the veil, we are still very much in that same space socially, emotionally and possibly even spiritually. Getting sober is primarily about stopping whatever self-destructive behavior we’ve attached ourselves to. Getting past sober and into a place of sustainable sobriety, however, involves a much more subtle kind of evolution. That evolution is the real journey—a journey back to selfhood.

The social and emotional deficits we’ve created for ourselves probably present the greatest challenge of the journey back to self, because they are about relationship. Relationship defines us, particularly our relationship to ourselves—a relationship we often overlook. In Eric Clapton’s case, music very much defined him. Part of his journey involved reestablishing his relationship to his instrument and, by association, his authentic voice.

If our tipping point came in our teens or early twenties, which is often the case, and we are five or ten or even 20 years in, we are still very much stuck with an adolescent brain, and the soft skills to match. We may find ourselves lacking the discernment to effectively translate social cues, unable to muster sufficient empathy, or repeatedly caught in the grip of our self-centered impulsivity. The dissonance these experiences create can wreak havoc on the recovery process, and is often the engine of relapse.

Harmonizing this dissonance is addressed by raising our self-awareness. It is, in some ways, akin to a Fourth Step. It involves taking a pointed and fearless inventory of our thoughts, feelings, needs and values, then comparing and contrasting what we find to our experience of our world in the moment. Our transformation is then fueled by accepting, allowing and holding space for where we find ourselves socially and emotionally, while setting an intention around where we want to be going forward. This intention becomes the foundation for evolving the social and emotional intelligence that draws us out of the veiled and stagnant adolescent mind and into a more present and dynamic adult mind.

© 2015 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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