The Person in the Mirror
Part of recovery is exploring our journeys. A few of the 12 Steps reference examining attitudes and behaviors that helped shape the person in the mirror:
- Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Humans are like sponges, often absorbing nourishment or toxins from those around us. We take on the habits, patterns and characteristics from our environment, including the people in it.
Meeting With Your Younger Self
When you were a child, would you have wanted to become the adult you are now? Imagine the little boy or girl who matured into your adult self. If you can’t remember back that far, find a photo of yourself at an age at which you felt innocent.
People who grapple with addiction might find it challenging to see themselves this way, sometimes feeling sullied by their compulsions. As you imagine your younger, innocent self, what do you see? More importantly, what do you feel?
Next, imagine having a conversation with him or her. Take both versions of yourself to someplace safe and relaxing, and then sit together. Did you have a haven from chaos or a place where you felt nourished?
Perhaps you’ve brought along a treat you can both enjoy. What was your favorite thing to eat as a child? Did you have a nickname you liked? Does hearing it again bring back memories of feeling loved? If so, call yourself by that name.
A Writer Reaches Back
In Running From Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit, author Richard Bach conducts this exercise. The adult Richard had promised his 9-year-old self, Dickie, that if he could he’d reach back and share what he’d learned over the decades.
One of the most powerful lessons was this:
“Tell him I said that he will know when he’s my age that books aren’t written on whims or old promises. Books are written on years turned inside out by ideas that never let go until you get them in print, and even then writing’s a last resort, a desperate ransom you pay to get your life back.”
This message holds true regardless of whether you’re a writer. It often feels as if we’re ransoming ourselves when we relinquish who we thought we were and what steps we believed were necessary to become successful or feel loved.
Have you sold your soul for approval? Have you given up your freedom to a substance, behavior or relationship? Are you willing to reclaim yourself?
Rediscovering Your Innocence
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did the adults in your life encourage or discourage these dreams? What messages did you internalize about your aspirations?
How about your relationships? Did you model them after what you witnessed growing up, or did you vow to make your interactions healthier than those you experienced? How have your relationships worked out since? As you get healthier, so will your relationships.
Were you an active child who ran about and splashed in puddles, or were you told not to get messy? Do you still play as an adult, even if it’s in a different way?
Did you have an active imagination? Did you believe that you could choose your destiny, or that it was already determined? Remember that your history isn’t your destiny: You don’t have to judge your life based on how you feel for a moment.
Becoming Your Own Role Model
Children often look up to the adults in their lives. Would the child you once were look up to you? If not, what are you willing to change so you’d become a healthy role model — for that younger version of yourself or for any other child?
After reading Running From Safety, I engaged in Bach’s practice of passing on “things I wish I knew when I was you”: I used a photograph of myself, taken when I was 22, after returning from a wilderness survival course called Outward Bound.
In the picture, I was perched on a stool in sweatpants and a corduroy shirt, long hair streaming down my back. I gazed at a poster from the course that said, “These will be the hardest, most wonderful days of your life.”
They certainly were. At the end of the 10 days — during which we went camping, hiking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing on the Appalachian Trail across Maine and New Hampshire — I emerged with a broken pinkie, sprained ankle, bronchitis, and frostbite on both hands. I also came home with a lifetime of lessons applicable to every aspect of recovery.
I advised the “me” of 34 years ago not to take responsibility for anyone else’s distress or dysfunction. I encouraged her to stand up for herself. I reminded her she’s worthy of love and respect, without needing to earn them by performing. I told her that she alone is accountable for her choices. I warned her that the cost of ignoring wise counsel is emotional wounding, health challenges, and self-limitation.
When I view myself through the eyes of the child I was, I can honestly say that now that I’ve learned these lessons, I’d be proud to see who I’ve become.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1
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