The original newsletter (pdf)
- A Reflective Moment for July: Recovery: Integrating and Thriving
- Poetry: “Mother”, by Terri Dubinski
- Rotation C Topic: Possible Meeting Topic for July: Integrating Unresolved Childhood Events
- ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment: Preparing for an ASCA Meeting
- Step Elaboration: Step 8
1. A Reflective Moment for July:
Recovery: Integrating and Thriving
by George Bilotta, Ph.D.
In the May edition, I discussed the first part of the board of directors’ definition of recovery from childhood abuse. In this issue of the ASCA News, I want to follow up with the last aspects of the definition, points 8–10.
|Recovery from child abuse is a process that includes||1|
|the ongoing telling of one’s story and experience about||2|
|the effects of the abuse on one’s life,||4|
|the ongoing efforts at recovery,||5|
|along with receiving support, acceptance and feedback||6|
|from the community of survivors and others||7|
|for the purpose of integrating unresolved childhood events||8|
|through the process of remembering, mourning and healing||9|
|to become a thriver in all aspects of life.||10|
Point 8: the purpose of integrating unresolved childhood events
To integrate unresolved childhood events, in part, means to make whole. To integrate is to bring together into a unifying and seamless whole every aspect of the self that constitutes who we are as human beings. Integration is a process of rectifying, re-balancing, and unifying that which has been hurt, torn, and divided. We do this with the purpose of living as thrivers.
Childhood abuse usually affects every aspect of a child’s being. This specifically includes the body and physical functioning; relationships, family, and social functioning; emotional and psychological functioning; intellectual, educational, and life-skill functioning; spiritual and heart functioning.
In a sense, to successfully integrate is to establish a synergistic chain reaction of well-being. There are various schools of thought concerning how to go about integrating unresolved childhood events. In ASCA, we approach integration through the three stages of remembering, mourning, and healing. ASCA permits much leeway as to how a survivor goes about pursuing integration within the three-stage framework. We recognize and respect the various needs and ways in which survivors pursue their recovery goals.
What do we mean by unresolved? What do unresolved childhood events do to us? Unresolved means that the impact of a) the various episodes of childhood abuse, b) how the abuse was initially dealt with, and c) how the past episodes of child abuse continue to be handled, has not yet been resolved, rectified, rebalanced, corrected, etc. Usually, the manifestations of unresolved childhood events continue to have a negative influence on our daily functioning. For example, survivors can experience depression, diminished self-worth, lack of trust, relationship difficulties, various disabilities, etc. These can be examples of how unresolved childhood events continue to influence survivors’ lives.
I think that there are two basic aspects to resolve. First, to resolve means to remove, rectify, neutralize, and redress the negative impact and influence stemming from the childhood abuse events. Within the ASCA framework, we accomplish this by telling our story over and over again. It also includes confronting the abusive episodes. Confrontation can take form in many different ways. Confrontation can include confronting the abuser(s) directly, and confronting the episodes through the retelling of the story of our abuse over and over again. We continue to confront until, as in Step 18, we reach the level that “I have resolved the abuse with my offenders to the extent acceptable to me.”
Second, to resolve includes developing various capacities that were lost, wounded, hindered, delayed, or set back. For example, childhood abuse tends to diminish one’s capacity to trust. In this example, to resolve would be to first neutralize the events leading up to and surrounding the lack of trust. Second, resolved would be to develop, promote, and work toward redeveloping and regaining the capacity to trust. We do this so that we can trust the world once again, so that we can enter into healthy relationships that build upon trust.
Point 9: through the process of remembering, mourning and healing
The board’s definition of recovery notes that we progress through recovery from childhood abuse through a specific framework. This framework consists of the three stages of the ASCA recovery process of remembering, mourning, and healing. We understand that the basic dynamic of recovery begins with remembering. Remembering includes telling our story about the abuse and its consequences over and over again to a variety of people, in a variety of ways.
It continues with mourning the loss of our childhood innocence. Mourning the loss of faithful parent(s), of loyal family. We mourn the pain of betrayal, the hurt of being used by others, the fear of abandonment, the confusion of appearing invisible, of not being seen or heard. We mourn the loss of not being genuinely cared for, loved or valued.
The final stage of recovery is healing. Healing includes the constructive realignment of our body, mind, and spirit. It is a process of learning how to nurture and cultivate the whole self that results in the reunion of my new self and eternal soul (Step 21).
Point 10: to become a thriver in all aspects of life
From the perspective of The Morris Center and through our ASCA program, the fundamental goal of recovery is to become a thriver in all aspects of life. What does it mean to be a thriver? Each of us has our own unique ideas, spin, and variations. Summing up what it means for me to be a thriver includes the following three areas:
- To foster the capacity to freely pursue life;
- to live life in a harmonious manner;
- to derive meaning and fulfillment from ordinary daily life experiences.
What is the capacity to freely pursue life? It is the capacity to engage in daily life freed and liberated from any residue, unresolved conflicts, negative emotional impact, etc., derived from being abused as a child or teenager. In part, it is what Step 19 refers to when stating, “I hold my own meaning about the abuse that releases me from the legacy of the past.” It is the freedom that flows out of a recovery process that has successfully placed the past to rest, into a new perspective, “to the extent acceptable to me,” as mentioned in Step 18.
It also includes the successful learning and integrating of life skills. Due to the abuse, we might not have gained or were prevented from learning and integrating necessary life skills. In a sense, we have caught up to life. We are now prepared and able to live freely, unencumbered by the past and having the necessary skills and resources to pursue life.
What does it mean to live life in a harmonious manner? To thrive, in part, requires a level of harmony. We are in tune with our body, mind, and spirit. We are in tune with our environment. We are in tune with the people, events, and things that comprise our daily lives. This does not mean that we never have difficulties, hassles, conflicts, stresses, etc. Rather, living life in a harmonious manner points to a reflective lifestyle that fosters harmony between and among all the various aspects of our lives. It is an approach to life, a stance towards life that is like a gyroscope. We continuously rebalance, rectify, place into perspective, correct, etc., the stuff of our daily lives.
Finally, for me to thrive includes deriving meaning and fulfillment from ordinary daily life experiences. Life is lived one day at a time, one moment at a time. For me, life is worth living and life is important when I experience meaning and fulfillment through the ordinary stuff of my life: the people, events, and things around me. To thrive, I must constantly see, hear, and feel the meaning and fulfillment in doing the stuff of my daily ordinary life. It is the opposite of taking my new self for granted.
In pursuing recovery from childhood abuse, it might be helpful to struggle through and articulate your particular definition of recovery. You might also want to share with us through ASCA News what your definition of recovery looks like.
by Terri Dubinski, Copyright 2001
I forgive you, though you never asked.
You hide instead behind a mask
Denying broken childhood dreams,
Deaf to your daughter’s echoing screams,
And memories of pain.
I forgive your lack of gentle touch.
You never thought it mattered much.
Though torn in heart and self-esteem,
My shattered spirit starved unseen,
And memories remain.
I forgive you, though in much travail.
For kindness must at last prevail.
Yet distance gives protection from,
The things I fear I might become.
And memories will fade.
3. Rotation C Topic:
Possible Meeting Topic for July:
Integrating Unresolved Childhood Events
For this month’s Rotation C topic, your meeting might consider a follow-up on the board’s definition of recovery from childhood abuse. Specifically, you might consider sharing on the topic of point 8 of the board’s definition, for the purpose of integrating unresolved childhood events. How have you gone about the task of integrating unresolved childhood events?
Some questions that might be helpful:
- Describe the difficulties, challenges, and obstacles for you concerning integrating unresolved childhood events?
- In what ways have you been successful in integrating unresolved childhood events?
- Who have been the people in your life that have been helpful or unhelpful in your pursuit to integrate unresolved childhood events?
4. ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment:
Purpose of Periodic Business Meetings
In the directives to co-facilitators found in the ASCA Meeting Format and Support Materials on page 16, it notes that ASCA meetings profit from having a monthly business meeting to discuss issues and to make local meeting-based decisions. Some ASCA meetings hold business meetings regularly. Others rarely, if ever, have a business meeting. For community-based ASCA meetings, business meetings are a way for the co-facilitators to share the responsibilities associated with managing the ongoing success of a local ASCA meeting. It is an opportunity for the co-facilitators to bring to the attention of the meeting membership areas of concern or decisions that need to be made concerning undercurrents within the meeting, paying meeting bills; the need for new co-facilitators to take a turn at running the meeting, etc. The most important function of holding an ongoing business meeting is to function as a check and balance, raising concerns and needs that need to be addressed and taken care of for the continued success and healthiness of the meeting. When was the last time your meeting held a business meeting?
5. Step Elaboration: Step 8
(We continue the monthly Step series by George J. Bilotta, Ph.D. “Step Elaboration” augments the material provided within our Survivor to Thriver manual.)
Step 8: “I have made an inventory of the problem areas in my adult life.”
In the introduction to “Stage Two Mourning” on page 89 of our Survivor to Thriver manual, it states, “The cornerstone of Stage Two is taking an honest inventory of your current life problems and then dedicating yourself to changing the behaviors that are making your life unsatisfactory.” The purpose of Step 8, as expressed on page 90 of our Survivor to Thriver manual, is that it “involves taking a full and honest inventory of the problem areas in your life, because you first have to identify what you want to change before you can begin to change it.”
If you have worked through Chapter Two of our Survivor to Thriver manual, you have accomplished some preliminary work on Step 8. In addition, you may have already dwelt somewhat on Stage One Remembering and the various first 7 Steps of ASCA. Consequently, your present situation may be somewhat different. What was problematic 6 or 12 months ago may be less problematic today. Alternatively, other areas of concern may be surfacing as past problems, difficulties, stresses, etc., slowly become resolved. As we progress through recovery, we evolve, grow, stretch and change. Step by step, we move steadily toward Step 21, “I am resolved in the reunion of my new self and eternal soul.”
Balancing Step 8
Step 8 evolves out of traditional self-help models and specifically the Alcoholics-Anonymous approach to assessing one’s life. When addressing Step 8, two basic questions seem to arise.
First, what does a full and honest inventory of the problem areas involve? Though Chapter Two of our Survivor to Thriver manual may have prepared you somewhat for Step 8, I have included a variety of questions to ponder to assist in compiling an inventory. I also discuss two different approaches that may be useful to process Step 8.
Second, along with an inventory of problem areas, would it also be beneficial within Step 8 to include an additional inventory? This alternative inventory, Step 8b, would acknowledge and detail successes, strengths, personal attributes, and/or interactions that bring about joy, fulfillment, meaning, wholeness, and well-being. From my perspective, Step 8b would function as a counterweight to the inventory of the problem areas.
First, what does a full and honest inventory of the problem areas involve? Before proceeding to compile an honest inventory, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that many of us tend to be hypercritical. We tend to be harsh, severe in judgment, and quick to find fault with ourselves. Many of us were raised within family and social environments that administered daily doses of negativity, put-down comments, sarcastic and biting remarks, unhelpful criticism, hurtful and wounding statements, etc. As children and teenagers, we inhaled these noxious comments that often produced distortions in our sense of self, self-esteem, and self-worth. Many survivors seldom received supportive remarks of affirmation, unconditional comments of love, statements of approval, helpful guidance, etc. Balance, fairness, and justice often seemed unavailable during childhood.
Step 8 is an invitation to reflect gently and record thoroughly the stuff of our current lives that remain problematic. Compiling an inventory could become an overwhelming task. If the process becomes overwhelming, it will not be helpful. If we feel overwhelmed, we might truncate, skim over or abandon this step.
One possible approach to anticipate and possibly prevent becoming overwhelmed might be to note only one, two, or three responses at most to each of the questions listed below. Limiting your responses within a given time period might also help. For example, you might structure Step 8 by allocating 30 minutes twice a week to spontaneously listing 1–3 responses to each of the questions. Naturally, you might want to include other questions that reflect your specific situation.
Another approach might be to ponder each question one day at a time. By making a single question the focus of mini-reflections throughout the day, you might gain broader and deeper insights. It might take several weeks to thoroughly explore all the questions. By chewing on and digesting each question one day at a time, however, you might be able to compile your inventory in a thoughtful, gentle, and leisurely manner.
Questions to think about might include the following:
- Describe what is not working in your life.
- Describe what is painful.
- Describe where and how you are stuck.
- Describe your struggles.
- Describe your stresses.
- Describe the people, events and things
- that hurt,
- that are unsatisfactory,
- that are not producing what is required to live productively and meaningfully.
- Describe your frustrations.
- Describe the obstacles you encounter.
- Describe your disappointments.
You might ponder the preceding questions through the primary filters of:
- Family functioning;
- relationships, social functioning;
- physical, bodily functioning;
- emotional, psychological functioning;
- intellectual, educational, life-skill functioning;
- spiritual, heart functioning.
Maintaining a journal or jotting down in a notebook your responses to the various questions is a technique that many survivors find helpful. Our thoughts and feeling seem to become clearer and more concrete whenever we write them down on paper. Furthermore, they may reveal additional insights when you review your notes weeks or months later.
Step 8b Inventory of Successes, Strengths
Along with an inventory of problem areas, would it also be beneficial within Step 8 to include an additional inventory? This Step 8b inventory would acknowledge and detail our successes, strengths, personal attributes, and/or interactions that bring about joy, fulfillment, meaning, wholeness, and well-being.
I wonder if there would be advantages to the recovery process by dividing Step 8 into Step 8a Inventory of Problems and Step 8b Inventory of Successes, Strengths? This question flows out of my sense and need for balance. Nowhere within the 21 Steps is there a specific directive to ponder and articulate our successes, strengths, talents, etc., to balance off our difficulties, weaknesses, and stressful life experiences. Where is the balance when we are ultimately trying to form and integrate, as stated in Step 21, a new self and eternal soul?
We focus resources, time, and energy into changing, growing, stretching, and remolding parts of ourselves within the process of recovery. I think that it would be supportive, helpful, and encouraging to compose a full and honest inventory that acknowledges and appreciates successes, strengths, personal attributes, and/or interactions that bring about joy, fulfillment, meaning, wholeness, and well-being. Similar to the inventory of problems, an inventory of successes and strengths, I think, would be comforting, balancing, and inspiring. By placing life into a broader perspective, a Step 8b inventory would emerge as a sounding board to check out reality, especially when we feel discouraged, depressed, doubtful, frustrated, etc.
Step 8b inventory could remind and challenge us to see and think of ourselves in a more balanced manner. It could evolve into a personal testament that would forthrightly affirm and attest to the fact that though we have identifiable problems to rectify, we are also substantive and substantial people with numerous successes, strengths, many desirable attributes, and personal resources. This type of process has the potential to increase and stir our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. A balanced inventory process would be similar to acknowledging feelings of pain, betrayal, anger, frustration, disappointment, etc., as well as noting feelings of happiness, contentment, joy, satisfaction, self-approval, fulfillment, etc.
Some directives follow that may be helpful in compiling an inventory of successes, strengths, personal attributes, and/or interactions that bring about joy, fulfillment, meaning, wholeness, and well-being.
- Describe some of your successes this past year.
- Describe areas of your life within which you have demonstrated strength this past year.
- Describe some of your favorite personal attributes.
- Describe what you delight in about yourself.
- Describe what pleases you about yourself.
- Describe the positive characteristics that others have told you that you possess.
- Describe what others have told you that they admire and like about you.
- Describe the positive feedback that have you received from friends, employers and/or volunteer situations.
- Describe the ways that you have experienced joy this past year.
- Describe what has been fulfilling for you this past year.
- Describe what has provided and added meaning to your life this past year.
- Describe under what types of situations and interactions you experience wholeness.
- Describe what you have done this past year to nurture a sense of wellbeing.
Again, you might ponder the preceding statements through the primary filters of:
- Family functioning;
- relationships, social functioning;
- physical, bodily functioning;
- emotional, psychological functioning;
- intellectual, educational, life-skill functioning;
- spiritual, heart functioning.
In the approach to the problematic areas of Step 8a, I made a comment about becoming overwhelmed. Although this could happen with the inventory of successes and strengths, the more probable obstacle to compiling a full and honest inventory dwells more on amorphous uncomfortable feelings and situations. If I am burdened with diminished self-esteem, I might tend to minimize my successes. I might not feel successful, though I may be factually and objectively successful in many areas. I might shade the truth and not give myself a full and objective accounting of my strengths. At times, I might feel weak or inadequate, and thus judge myself harshly or compare myself to others. I may then see and experience myself as lacking and not being good enough.
If I have tunnel vision that views the world as either/or, good or bad, right or wrong, I might feel constrained, inhibited, or invisible. I might not give myself honest credit for personal attributes that are still evolving, still in the process of maturing, still not quite ready to manifest themselves in my everyday life. The previous were examples of amorphous uncomfortable feelings and situations that might make it difficult to compile a full and honest inventory of successes, strengths, etc.
Again, similar to the approach to the problematic inventory, to prevent feeling overwhelmed in the creative exercise of exploring our successes and strengths, you might try the following. Note only one, two, or three at most responses to each of the preceding descriptive statements. Another approach might be to ponder each question one day at a time.
What do you think about adding Step 8b? This question is raised because I believe it would be a useful counterbalance to the inventory of problematic areas.Childhood abuse has a way of throwing us off balance, pushing us off our center, disturbing our equilibrium. I think compiling a Step 8b inventory could become a helpful corrective and re-balancing measure.
We need to identify our problem areas first before we can strategize about how to grow and change. We need, as well, to identify our successes and strengths as a means to support our recovery efforts, to encourage our hopes and dreams concerning what our future can be.
As the final sentence in our ASCA meeting “Closing Statement” states:
We close our meeting now with renewed faith in our power, armed with self-knowledge, fed by our strength drawn from survival, empowered by the challenge of change, and graced with a sense of hope for what our future can be.
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.