Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tools, Glorious Tools - Part I

During the recovery process we learn about and use tools. What do we mean by tools? How do they help us practice self care? Why do we need them in our daily lives?

Many of us have been damaged by relationship trauma. This damage may have occurred over an extended period of time beginning with our family of origin during our early years. We may have been too young to be capable of appropriately processing the events that surrounded our lives. In order to survive the drama and chaos, we adopted defense mechanisms. Without our defenses we might not have been able to continue to live in our family of origin without experiencing enormous psychological pain.

Some of us experienced much more subtle forms of damage. The dysfunctional patterns of some families of origin may appear healthy to those within the family. Manipulation and passive aggressive types of behavior by caretakers can be too subtle for the mind of a child to process. Family members may have no ruler against which to measure the behavior of their caretakers. Without an example of what healthy behavior looks like, members will internalize family behavior patterns as their own. This too creates defense mechanisms since children accept adult behavior as the standard against which all is measured.

Now that we are adults we find we have outgrown these defense mechanisms. They no longer serve us as they did when we were children, as a protection from psychological harm. Our defenses have become a hindrance to our enjoyment of life. They are much like a favorite pair of childhood shoes that no longer fit. We try to put them on but they squash our self esteem and don’t permit us to interact appropriately with our world. As we continue to use them as adults, we create shackles that keep us from freedom. We are literally hobbled by our defenses.

Tools allow us to gradually free ourselves from defense mechanisms that no longer function for our benefit. We slowly unlock the iron grip of shackles opening one link at a time. Each tool in our tool bag gives us more ability to open the links and escape our home made prisons. As we do the work of unlocking ourselves from our defenses we gradually increase our self esteem. Each step in the process raises our belief and trust in ourselves, allowing us to begin to trust our discernment once again.

Tools are instruments of self care that are learned during the recovery process. Like the tools used in carpentry, they need to be handled regularly and practiced often so we may become adept at using them in our daily lives. It takes time to unlearn habits that we may have had for twenty or more years and one of our first tools learned is patience and managing expectations. We need to be patient with ourselves. Recovery is a process that takes time and effort. We may often feel as if we take three steps forward and two steps back. That’s okay. We can allow ourselves the gift of patience. Managing our expectations is crucial. We can undo much of our progress if our expectations are unreasonable. We need to expect setbacks. This too is part of the recovery process.

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