Archive for September, 2015

St. Joseph Institute Alumnus Drew Reed is featured in The Harrisburg Patriot article highlighting the ongoing painkiller-heroin addiction crisis in the state of Pennsylvania and beyond, the challenges facing addicts for decent and affordable treatment options and the individual triumph of one tenacious young man.


ForgiveYourselfHow many times have you looked in a mirror and felt disappointment? We all have complaints about our physical selves, and for many of us, our disappointment runs deeper, to the ways we think, feel, and act. This disappointment leads us to harm ourselves, whether it’s by eating too much, not sleeping enough, over-exercising, letting others take advantage of us, or getting ourselves into insurmountable debt. The more we dislike ourselves, the more we will harm ourselves. Those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are running from a self-hatred so strong that it creates a desire to self-destruct.

If self-hatred is the cause of addiction, what is the cure? Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a tricky word; it implies both guilt and sin, religious words that have often been used to damage rather than heal. The addict knows what guilt feels like, but what he may not know is that guilt can become a crutch, an excuse to stay stuck in harmful patterns. Feelings of guilt and shame perpetuate the self-destructive cycle and block the healing power of forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness begins with setting aside guilt and shame. Start small. If you don’t like the word forgiveness, try the words “allow” or “let go.” When you begin to feel that inkling of something wrong—whether it’s an annoyance with your child, a rising anger at other drivers on the way to work, or a general feeling of sadness—take a moment to pause and notice what you’re feeling.

Then, simply allow yourself to be exactly as you are in that moment. Don’t judge or resist what you’re feeling. Say, “I allow myself this annoyance.” Or “I allow myself to feel anger.” Or “I allow myself to feel sad even though I don’t know where it’s coming from.” Repeat as often as necessary.

It may seem silly or futile to focus on such small feelings when it’s the more intense feelings that lead to relapse, but think of it as peeling an onion. Start with the surface layer, and trust that it will lead to deeper and deeper layers.

But wait, you might think. Wouldn’t it be wrong to forgive myself for drinking or using again? Won’t forgiving myself make it too easy to return to addiction?

It’s true that sometimes we can use what we might call “forgiveness” or “self-acceptance” to support an attitude of recklessness. When we binge on something harmful, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or junk food, we might push aside feelings of guilt or self-hatred by telling ourselves things like, “It’s no big deal” or “This won’t happen again.” However, rebelliously denying our feelings of guilt only makes the guilt worse—and pushes true forgiveness further away.

So what can we do, pre-, mid- or post-relapse? Are we allowed to forgive ourselves? When you’re feeling overwhelmed with guilt, rather than trying to push it away, allow it. If possible, try to allow it without judging it or yourself. Just observe what the guilt feels like.

If you say, “I allow myself this guilt,” you might be surprised at the immediate calm this statement will bring to you. It can take you beyond guilt to a place of peace, a stillness beneath the guilt, where you can recognize that guilt is a false construct. You can discover that guilt is an illusion of your ego, intended to keep you down, to keep you using. Guilt comes from thoughts of the past and thoughts of the future. In the present, it has no hold over us, and we can let it go. We can forgive ourselves.

boundariesAs family members and friends of an addicted loved one, you have probably observed this person fail to establish clear boundaries. You may also have a hard time establishing the boundaries that would protect you from this person’s behavior.

Learning healthy boundaries is an essential aspect of self-care. Boundaries help us know who we are and make healthy choices. They give us confidence in using the words “yes” and “no.” When boundaries are violated regularly, the wounds take years to overcome.

In childhood, boundary violations occur when parents/authority figures:

  • Fail to listen to and validate the child’s thoughts, feelings, and needs
  • Fail to stay attached and connected to the child when they disagree with the child
  • Impose limits that are too strict, preventing the child from learning from experience
  • Set inconsistent boundaries and limits, creating confusion for the child
  • Create an inappropriate alliance with the child that interferes with or substitutes for the relationship between parents (thus destroying a healthy parent/child boundary)
  • Tell the child what to think, feel, or need, giving the child no freedom to choose

Boundary injuries sustained in childhood create four types of unhealthy dispositions. The compliant disposition is easily controlled by the demands of others. The non-responsive person is too self-absorbed to notice others’ needs. The controlling person fails to respect others’ boundaries, and the avoidant person fails to recognize his or her own needs and ask for help.

Even if we learned healthy boundaries as children, many of us allow our boundaries to deteriorate over time or in certain circumstances. You know your boundaries have been violated when:

  • Others ignore/discount your thoughts, feelings or opinions
  • You let others persuade you to do things you know are wrong or that make you feel uncomfortable
  • You fail to impose proper discipline on yourself or others
  • You act selfishly and disregarded the needs of others
  • You let others’ mistakes dictate your future and lead you into despair
  • You let others’ expectations rule your life

If you find that you are consistently sacrificing your sense of self in order to accommodate others, you might want to do a boundary check. You can begin by reflecting on the following questions:

  • Which boundary injuries did you experience growing up? How have those injuries affected you?
  • Which of your boundaries (thoughts, feelings, needs, values, personal space) are violated most often?
  • Who/what violates your boundaries?
  • Why do you allow your boundaries to be violated?
  • How might the boundaries in your family need to change?

We protect our boundaries when we express how we feel or what we think. The following Assertiveness Statement can help you put your boundaries clearly into words:

I feel __________________________when you _________________________.

It would help if we could __________________________________________.

If this simple statement feels difficult or even dangerous, ease up. Don’t feel pressure to respond immediately. You can simply say, “I’m feeling confused about how to respond right now. Please allow me to think about this for awhile.” After some reflection and space, you might feel the assurance you need to create a boundary and protect yourself.

As we learn to recognize and establish our boundaries, we help ourselves, our family, and our addicted loved one live with greater honesty, integrity, and self-respect. Ultimately, boundaries help us all recover from the destructive disease of addiction.