The original newsletter (pdf)
- A Reflective Moment for April: Enriching the Soil that Fosters Our Emerging Self
- Rotation C Topic: Possible Meeting Topic for April: Resistance: The Rusty Hinges of Recovery
- ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment: Selecting Helpful Topics and Accompanying Handout Materials for Rotation C ASCA Meetings?
- Poetry: “Insult to Structure”, by James Daniel
1. A Reflective Moment for April:
Enriching the Soil that Fosters Our Emerging Self
by George Bilotta
(The following brief article continues our monthly series focused on pondering some of life’s basic questions as we slowly move into a new millennium.)
Many of us are acutely aware that the abuse we suffered during childhood wounded and hindered our sense of self from fully developing and emerging. Many of us have probably questioned how our sense of self, how we perceive and feel about ourselves, how our self-esteem would have evolved if we grew up within healthy families, if we were not abused. For many survivors, part of recovery is fostering a renewed sense of self, or as Step Sixteen would state—“I am strengthening the healthy parts of myself, adding to my self-esteem.” In part, it involves enhancing the dimensions and characteristics that we like and replacing and/or decreasing the dimensions and characteristics that were distorted through the influence of abuse and growing up within an unhealthy family environment.
For me, the basic stuff, the fundamental soil, the center out of which our sense of self emerges and grows is through an enriched sense of awe and wonder in our everyday lives. Cultivating awe and wonder in our everyday lives fundamentally opens me up to the realization of who I am as a person, the wonderful mystery of me. Awe and wonder open me up, permitting me to see and embrace myself with all my strengths, beauty, and wonderfulness, along with a gentle acceptance of my weaknesses, the parts of me that remain underdeveloped. Awe and wonder are the enriched soil out of which my true sense of self can grow, develop, and emerge, and then be viewed, valued, and embraced.
Opening up is important because most often, closing down, shutting down, closing out, and blocking out were necessary survival tactics that we employed to stay alive, to survive the pain, the suffering, and the bewildering mess that we found ourselves in as children. For many survivors, the process of opening up is difficult, scary, and full of anxiety. Yet, if somehow we do not learn and practice how to open up, then much of life will be walled off, closed off, unavailable, and lost. For me, opening up via cultivating awe and wonder in my daily life has been a safe, private, readily available, and non-risky way to foster my renewed sense of self in order to enhance my self-esteem. Opening up, I believe, is part of Steps 1, 2, and 3 in Stage One Remembering. Opening up is also part of Steps 8 and 13 in Stage Two Mourning. Opening up is also part of Steps 15, 16 and 17 in Stage Three Healing. From my perspective, opening up is very important within the recovery process from childhood abuse.
What is awe and wonder? It is, for example, the experience evoked when holding an infant. There is something about holding an infant that evokes a powerful set of feelings and behaviors within the fragileness, vulnerability, sacredness, and innocence of the infant. What is evoked is what we call awe and wonder. We are open when we hold the infant. Similarly, when we stroll down a secluded beach, mesmerized by the power, beauty, and enormity of the ocean, the environmental setting seems to evoke awe and wonder. We are often stunned, humbled and overcome by the magnificence of the ocean. At that moment, we are open to the mystery of Mother Nature. Listening to some ASCA shares can sometimes evoke a sense of awe and wonder. As we sit listening—or reading shares on our website within the ASCA e-meetings—we are astonished, taken aback, wondering how this person who has been so abused, hurt and wounded manages to carry on with his or her life so well. Listening in this manner to ASCA shares, we are sometimes awe-inspired. We open ourselves up to the people who speak from their heart, the center of their being. We feel deeply touched.
Opening up has everything to do with providing the conditions, the rich soil, needed to be deeply in love with self and others. Loving deeply with passion, whether for oneself or for others, entails not only the previous examples of holding the infant, walking the beach, and listening to that special ASCA share, but also being mystified, stunned, and warmly and refreshingly overwhelmed by the beauty, power, majesty, wonderfulness, fragility, and so on, of self, the other, nature, etc. Most often, this is something we did not receive or marginally received growing up within an abusive environment. Cultivating awe and wonder in our daily lives can help us, I believe, to maintain our openness to ourselves, others, and the things of the world. Cultivating awe and wonder is one way to keep our hearts open to the mystery of who we are, to the mystery of others, and to the mystery of life. In so doing, in my experience, it enhances a sense of self, self-worth, and self-esteem.
How do we go about cultivating awe and wonder in our everyday lives? I will try to respond to this question with some examples from my own daily life. On a daily basis, because I value what cultivating awe and wonder can mean for me in my life, I aim purposefully at trying to be attentive to and reflective about the people, events, and things around me that might evoke awe and wonder. For example, I have two cats, Cleo and Hobbs, who have been a part of our family for 13 years. Every morning it is the same basic routine. “Pick me (Cleo) up and rub my belly.” It is a brief moment to ponder the security she senses, the trust, the amazing sense of connection that she has with her human caretaker. For me, it sets the tone of the day—try to be gentle, try to be open, try to take in the goodness that life is presently offering.
Another example of cultivating awe and wonder in an ordinary, everyday manner for me is making my stovetop espresso. For me, making my espresso in the morning is a conscious and deliberate ritual filled with expectation and anticipation of something wonderfully delicious and satisfying about to happen. There is joy and satisfaction in tasting the initial sips of espresso. I focus on the flavor, the weight of the rich liquid on my tongue, its warmth, its depth of flavor. I ponder in amazement at how a few grounded beans can make such a refreshing liquid experience.
As I read and sometimes peruse specific articles within the morning newspaper, it is often filled with little articles that spark awe and wonder. In a newspaper that is usually filled with much human misery, tragedy, and hate, I am awed and filled with wonder as I ponder the many examples of human resilience, heroism, and kindness. Examples of neighbor aiding neighbor, the cutting-edge marvels of science and medicine, etc., fill the daily paper, beckoning me to be still as I wonder in an incomprehensible way what many dedicated people have created. In some ways, I do not skim or just read part of the newspaper, but with selected articles I ponder and allow the news article to disclose its awe and fill me with wonder. It sets another tone for the day—don’t take life and the environment around me for granted, try to be appreciative, try to interact with respect.
No matter how often I use it, my computer is simply another fascinating means that provides awe and wonder throughout my day. Usually, when I first boot up my computer, I tend to check my email. In seconds, I receive notes, sometimes from around the world. It is truly amazing for someone like me to click and have almost instant responses by receiving messages and information from thousands of miles away. It is simply beyond my comprehension how talented people have enhanced my life with this type of technology. Throughout the day, while at my desk with my trusty computer, additional tones for the day continue to echo—reminders of others out in the world working. I wonder how our cooperative work improves our world; how each of us contributes in a unique way to the whole; how we each have a place in society; that we are all trying our best even though we often fall short.
So, within a couple of hours into an ordinary day and throughout the day, there have been several distinct experiences of awe and wonder that have opened me, that have set the tone for the day, that have humbled me, that have placed life into perspective.
This ongoing enrichment of my being through ordinary daily experiences that evoke awe and wonder opens me up, adds substance and concrete form to my sense of self. How? What does it add? The how is that through focusing, pondering, and staying momentarily with the numerous experiences of awe and wonder that come my way throughout the day, I remain open, I am reopened, or I open up a little more. What does it add? In this openness, I can see and feel who I am; my strengths, my talents, my beauty, my wonderfulness. The openness also exposes my weaknesses, my lacks, my faults—my many things that I would prefer not to notice. But the light of awe and wonder also sheds a beam of gentle acceptance, compassionate understanding, and an embrace of acknowledgment that it is okay that I have these underdeveloped sides of me, that I am not a bad, ugly, incomplete person because I have underdeveloped aspects. I understand, appreciate and let sink in a little more that to be human is to be incomplete as well as wonderful.
So, awe and wonder help me to remain open. In this openness, I see myself in my glory and in my incompleteness. In this openness, I am aware, see, understand and accept a little bit more of who I am. The awe and wonder, the openness, provide some measure of balance and perspective. It counters the past negative junk that stated that I was no good, bad, ugly, not worthwhile, would not amount to anything, etc. Enhancing our sense of self and building up our self-esteem through cultivating awe and wonder, which can help us to be open to life and the world around us, is only one of the many ways to grow and to change in this particular arena of our lives.
2. Rotation C Topic:
Possible Meeting Topic for April:
Resistance: The Rusty Hinges of Recovery
Resistance, both a common everyday experience and a standard psychological concept, somewhat resembles the rusting hinges on the doorway to our ongoing recovery. If we tug, pull, and force the rusty hinged door to give, to release, to deny its rustiness, a high probability exists that in trying to pressure the door open, there will be a break, a fracture, an unhinging of the door. More harm and more mess seem to occur in our lives when we use force, harshness, and/or impulsiveness than when we approach problems, difficulties, and dilemmas in a thoughtful, gradual, and light-handed manner.
Everyday resistance includes putting off unpleasant tasks like household chores, deferring tax preparation until April, dieting, exercising, etc. Resistance within our recovery process might look like avoiding reading that article or book on the subject of abuse. Or forgetting to make that call to a psychotherapist, a support group, or deferring confronting our abuser or a family member. Or not acknowledging that our abuser is possibly emotionally bankrupt, which may necessitate appropriate distance from him or her. When we lift the lid off of any type of emotional resistance, we can look and peer down into the pain, hurt, displeasure, distress, discomfort, dislike, etc. that functions as the rusting resisting agent.
For example, a wife and mother may resist seeing and then acknowledging that her husband is abusing her children. The resistance, or the rusting agent, is the distress, hurt, and anger that would accompany such an acknowledgment. The resistance, the rusting agent, prevents her from seeing the reality around her. Another example might include the difficulty that many survivors experience in trying to enhance their self-esteem. If they should think and feel well about themselves, then it might create confusion and conflict concerning, “If I am such a worthwhile person, why was I abused?” They will probably also resist seeing and acknowledging that they are wonderful, enjoyable, and have many skills. They resist since the concepts do not fit their mindset, and because they feel uncomfortable thinking positively about themselves. Or, in thinking well about themselves, they may decide to venture off and try to have the life that they want. This might necessitate leaving everything behind, and it probably scares the dickens out of them.
From a basic psychological perspective, what causes us to be resistant is often, but not solely, fear, hurt, pain, displeasure, anxiety, discomfort, etc., whose roots tend to be more unconscious than conscious. We tend to avoid pain and discomfort because most of us are not masochistic. Look at how many people resist losing weight that their medical doctors have advised. We resist losing weight not because we lack the strength, will, or knowledge that it is good for us, but perhaps because we will feel deprived, hungry, or empty if we do. We resist these feelings. Many survivors feel such a high level of deprivation that the thought of dieting, i.e., purposefully depriving themselves of food, a primary pleasure in our day, is an unpleasant and unthinkable choice. For many people, eating is a way to deal with anxieties of various forms. For some survivors, they need the weight as a guard against being perceived as attractive and physically inviting. For many people, these types of feelings and hunger bring up a wide variety of unresolved issues from their lives. Furthermore, some survivors with excess weight have a medical condition that causes them additional problems and challenges and has nothing to do with resistance.
It might also be helpful to consider the concept of resistance as an aspect of change or the inability to flow with change. Many people feel stuck, incapable, unsettled, anxious or fearful of change. We might say that we would then have a certain degree of rigidity, inflexibility, adamancy, and/or intransigence concerning our unconscious or conscious refusal to try to change, to try to change our situation, to try to change by looking at ourselves or a situation from a different perspective. So, part of my resistance might also have something to do with my concerns around change.
The question now arises, how do we deal with our personal resistance, with the rustiness on our door hinges to life, on our door hinges to recovery? What might be the solvents and lubricants that dissolve and loosen the rust, the resistance? Since resistance tends to be more unconscious than conscious, dealing with resistance directly is often not possible and, in the least, difficult and frustrating. Forcing ourselves is usually counterproductive, like tugging and pulling on a rusty door. We can force ourselves to wash the kitchen floor, but we really cannot force ourselves to stop being resistant to that which on an unconscious or conscious level is perceived as being harmful, unpleasant, overbearing, offensive, painful, depriving, etc.
On the other hand, doing nothing or having no alternative to dealing with our resistance is similarly unhelpful. So maybe one possible practical approach to the various forms of our resistance would be more along the lines of fostering the opposite of resistance. Perhaps the opposite of resistance will eventually be the solvents and lubricants that dissolve and loosen some of our rusty resistance. For example, the opposite of resistance could include concepts like flexibility, pliability, responsiveness, adaptability, resiliency, letting go, surrendering to reality, detachment, acceptance, effortlessness, etc. So, by focusing, for example, on becoming more flexible and tolerant in general, this type of stretching, flexing, and broadening exercise may help us deal with our resistance in general. Naturally there are other ways people deal with resistance.
If we could force ourselves, we would have already conquered our resistance long ago. Most of us are strong people. We are survivors, walking on the road to being thrivers. We have strength, stick-to-itiveness, persistence, etc. Unfortunately, strength, perseverance, and force are not the issues or the answers in reference to our unconscious or conscious resistance. Ironically, dealing with resistance seems to have more to do with the attraction or complementarity of opposites than the head-on confrontation of the illusive resistance. We resist, but can we bend?
- What has been your experience of emotional resistance?
- Can you name some of your areas of resistance?
- How have you tried in the past to resolve your basic areas of resistance?
- What has been helpful to you in the past concerning dealing with your areas of resistance?
3. ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment:
Selecting Helpful Topics and Accompanying Handout Materials for Rotation C ASCA Meetings?
One of the duties of the co-facilitators is to decide upon an appropriate topic and corresponding material for the meeting when Rotation C, a topic-oriented meeting, takes its turn. To aid in this task, we present a possible topic in the ASCA News every month like, this month’s topic, “Resistance: The Rusty Hinges of Recovery.” All past topics, along with their accompanying narratives, can be found on our website.
The co-facilitators and the meeting membership can choose the suggested topic of the month, select a topic from our extended list on our website, or opt for another topic that may be more helpful for their particular meeting group. Some meetings have taken a few paragraphs from recovery-oriented books or articles. Others have written some of their own material.
There is one general rule to follow when choosing an alternative topic: topics must be inclusive of the entire meeting membership. For example, selecting the topic of incest might leave some members of the group out since not all ASCA participants have experienced incest. Or choosing the topic of suicide might again leave some members wanting, since not all ASCA participants experience suicidal ideations or have attempted suicide.
The guideline around inclusiveness means that the topic needs to be sufficiently broad to accommodate all meeting participants. A broad and general topic, like this month’s topic of resistance, is capable of including everyone. Yet, as you have read in the above resistance narrative, the narrative can present a particular focus or perspective.
Participants may or may not identify with the general written perspective of the topic, but they can always identify with the basic topic itself. So, whether a person agrees, disagrees, likes, dislikes, applauds, or yawns concerning the written material focusing on the topic, everyone in the least can identify and ascent to the topic and consequently address the topic in their share.
Sometimes a focused topic can be broadened sufficiently to include everyone. For example, there is a school of survivorship that would strongly argue that forgiving the abuser is an important aspect of recovery. Yet, there is another school of thought among survivors that would argue just as strongly that forgiving a perpetrator is impossible and that forgiveness is actually a form of denial.
Irrespective of where you stand on this topic, forgiveness is a human experience and therefore an issue that every survivor needs to come to grips with, one way or another. So, instead of stating and presenting the topic as e.g., “The Need to Forgive Our Perpetrators”, or “Forgiveness Is a Sign of Health,” or “Forgiveness: The Last Stage of Recovery,” simply stating the topic as “Forgiveness: What Do We Do With It?” or “Forgiveness: What Does It Mean?” or “Forgiveness: What Are the Pros and Cons?” could stimulate an in-dept sharing among the members. Every ASCA member has some type of lived experience with forgiving someone and being forgiven by someone. With a little judicial thought, most focused topics can be broadened to be inclusive and helpful.
Topics are not debated. The idea behind the topic rotation is to provide an opportunity to review and discuss material that is important to recovery from childhood abuse yet may not be covered in the 21 Steps or in general through our Survivor to Thriver manual. The manner in which co-facilitators decide to present Rotation C topics can often make a difference for the meeting membership. Some meetings routinely spend a few moments developing a list of potential topics for future meetings. Co-facilitators might find this procedure helpful and supportive.
A final note about choosing an alternative topic is to raise some general questions. At the conclusion of all the topics that I write, I suggest some questions to ponder. The questions are always very general in order to permit maximum projection onto the topic and questions.
If you have a suggestion for a topic, let me know. My contact information, including email, telephone number, and address, is always listed on the last page of the ASCA News. Many topics presented in the ASCA News come from suggestions or requests made by ASCA members, like this month’s topic on resistance.
Insult to Structure
by James Daniel, Copyright 2001
Crying and crying
Where am I now?
What are all these creatures around me?
Strange faces of animals staring at me
Through wooden bars
Shelf upon shelf going up to the sky
I can’t reach for any
They’re all up too high
I’m wet and I’m hungry
All they can do is stare
I cannot form words
All I can do is cry and cry
Mommy, Daddy, where are you?
Don’t you care?
In like a hurricane
Blind muddy red rage
She picks me up, yells,
Shakes me hard like a rattle
My head wobbles loose on top of my spine
I clench my muscles the best that I can
Now I can touch the faces around me
Now I can rise to the uppermost shelf
Up here it’s safe, just the creatures and myself
Down there I’ve stopped crying
But I can’t get out
I’m too afraid to move.
Confused, what just happened?
I don’t feel wet, I don’t feel hungry
I don’t feel anything
I’m staying up here
I don’t have needs up here
There’s no anger up here
I can be quiet up here
They’ll not know I’m here
With all the creatures
With all the blank stares
With them I’ll stay
Of all the pain down there
I’ll do my best
To stay unaware.
Selection editing note
Above, for clarity, the word “co-secretary” was replaced by “co-facilitator” as the current title used in ASCA meetings for the same role.