Abandonment wounds and the recovery process

From Lit by Mary Karr

In the funny way that life happens, I lapsed back onto alcohol the night of August 5th, just five days shy of my one year “soberversary.”

Misfires in our brain may cause misfires in our lives, but they need not be permanent. Seeing these misfires as opportunities for growth doesn’t happen right away and sometimes it takes longer than others.

“Victims tend to have emotional flashbacks, flooding them with feelings ranging from mild anxiety to intense panic in response to triggers that they may not be conscious of. Once abandonment fear is triggered, they can feel momentarily overwhelmed, and some experience what Daniel Goleman calls β€œemotional hijacking” – a difficulty reining in one’s emotions.”

Source: Susan Anderson

Throughout my own journey, however, with all of the hard work that I did not lose because of my lapse, I was able to bounce back ten days later, a huge difference compared to my last relapse last year that lasted around 3 1/2 months and was incredibly destructive.

The difference this time, as I paraphrase someone who shared at AA last night, is that I have a kind of life I want to keep right now. Last year my mental illness was being treated unsuccessfully and there was little I had to hold onto besides some friends I’d socialize with.

“Alcoholics Anonymous has been extremely effective in dealing with the addictive and co-addictive problems secondary to abandonment, but are unable to go beyond the symptoms and treat the underlying abandonment wound itself.” – Susan Anderson, author of The Journey from Abandonment to Healing

I hadn’t yet had some sense of stability, the hard work hadn’t been done; I hadn’t come to understand and practice mindfulness, and I hadn’t reunited with the authentic girl I used to be before all the trauma and addiction misfired my brain.

And during this lapse it did misfire my traumatized brain again. It wasn’t even the amount of alcohol or that anything external came of it; I felt my soul being robbed of me again. I had my soul before I picked up that drink again, when all I was trying to do was numb the pain of unhealed trauma.

“We die in each moment, and again in each moment, we are born. The process of birth and death goes on endlessly, moment after moment.” – Buddhist philosophy

“The body keeps the score.” Trauma stays in the body until that particular wound has scabbed over, but the scar tissue is always there. I could pick at the wound of my parents’ divorce that has already scabbed over, but at this stage in my life I see no reason I’d need to. Social and romantic abandonment, though; those wounds are as fresh as the trees in spring.

“I quit drinking so I wouldn’t be alone.

I am alone.

I want to drink.”

That was the catch-22 I was caught in the night I felt the relentless urge to drink. Damned if I did, damned if I didn’t. But thinking logically now, I was trying to kill someone (something) else by drinking the poison myself.

It’s my abandonment trauma that makes me feel alone still. And I can’t kill or drown that; it has to be felt and processed with a professional. I thought I could process a senseless wound on my own, but all it was was sitting there, festering.

“Healing the primal wound of abandonment doesn’t come naturally to most people. Left to our own devices, we tend to do the very thing that interferes in the process and prolongs our suffering. That is, we use our cerebral cortex to try thinking our way out of the grief – analyzing, reviewing, and obsessing about all the particulars and details of the relationship. But the healing powers lie not within the constant tick-tick-ticking of the brain, but within the creative processes within the body. We don’t think our way out of abandonment, we do our way out. And doing is a creative process.”

Source: Susan Anderson

I had done a fine job taking care of myself yesterday. I had spent time at my neighborhood pool, tanning and swimming while my car was in the shop. When I picked up my car after my time at the pool, floating on my back in the cool water under the beaming sun, I of course became hungry.

I was not thinking of alcohol at this time. But since the proverbial door hadn’t yet been shut, opportunity knocked and I found myself sitting at the bar for lunch. I don’t think I got halfway through my first drink without feeling regret for what I was doing to myself because I wasn’t doing anything for myself.

I had just been taking care of myself and now I wasn’t, and the shame escalated quickly. “I’m so stupid,” I thought to myself. “Why am I doing this?” I had already numbed the first night I lapsed; why did I have to keep repeating this futile behavior when I knew the real recovery was in therapy and returning to Buddhist practice, not the bar?

I’m an alcoholic and even if I could moderate my drinking, how would that benefit me spiritually and emotionally? It abandons me, too. It exacerbates the shame. Oh, I feel abandoned, so let me abandon myself some more. That is not “right mindfulness.” That is forgetting about the real problem: dukkha; suffering, pain.

I had mentioned wanting a spotless mind from these “senseless” events, which is the word my therapist used in our last session to help explain why our brains don’t know how to process them. Is the first abandonment wound responsible for the trajectory of my trauma up to this point? Most of us have spotted out our first abandonment wound: the event of birth, of being forced out of the womb. Then there are those adopted or orphaned; are they forever screwed, too?

I am reading The Journey from Abandonment to Healing for about the third time now. I am sure it won’t be my last, as it’s a very important book to me. I am also going to revisit Refuge Recovery meetings because my refuge belongs in Buddhist philosophy and sangha (community), and right mindfulness is what strengthens my recovery and helps stabilize my bipolar disorder.

Some ask for forgiveness from a god, some just return to right mindfulness and the self-shame is lifted. Excelsior: onward and upward. August 16th, 2018.

3 thoughts on “Abandonment wounds and the recovery process

  1. I’m so glad I came across your site. (We have a few things in common.) Your words make me feel less alone in the world. And you’re a pleasure to read!

    Liked by 1 person

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