It’s funny how when you least expect it, something happens—someone says something that triggers you. There it is. A little reminder in your soul that you are not enough. This especially happens around family.
I have been working on my control issues for a while now and as I piece together my abuse and neglect history, I can clearly see where this pain comes from. I call this process Phase Three—any earlier in my recovery I would not have been able to respond to such messaging in a healthy, functional way.
As a sober sex addict and alcoholic, and now as a trained addiction and trauma clinician, I have absorbed many methods, theories, and processes that contributed to my recovery. Books, articles, consultations, and experiences have reinforced my knowledge of the field of addiction recovery. Even with all this training and understanding, I still experienced a reaction that is directly tied to the wounds from my childhood.
I have come to the conclusion that getting sober from addiction is only the beginning of recovery. I have also concluded, like many other clinicians the field, that all addicts are codependent. For this reason, my personal recovery will continue around the core symptoms and behaviors of codependency.
The issue that continues to come up for me is how my experiences in early childhood have wired me to respond today. For example, no matter how many times my husband says I am beautiful and he loves me, why doesn’t it touch my soul in a deep, abiding way? Why can’t I absorb his words of affection it in a personal way?
The same is true in my relationship with God. Why is there an unseen veil shrouding the part of me that can “feel” love? Why do I continue to control what touches my heart?
There’s that word again—control. This word comes up a lot in my recovery processes. Negative control is but one of the behaviors or coping strategies of the codependent.
Part of me wants to just forget about it. Pack it neatly in a box, put a ribbon around it, and store it in a closet to be thrown out someday. But this isn’t real. Denying the reality that my wounded soul was experiencing each time I was overlooked and forgotten is not acknowledging the hurting little girl who has a need to be heard, acknowledged, and comforted. This way I can face the fact that there are some wounds only Jesus and me can take care of. I cannot rely on others, who are out of my control, to comfort me and lift me up.
A recent event reminded me of how the wounds of the past can still create a painful internal reaction. A family member emailed a reminder about who in our family served in the military and gave a bit of history. The email did not mention my service in the Army. Shortly following this email, we all received a second email with the subject, “OMG, I forgot Debby . . .” There it was again.
My feelings—the hurt of the forgotten child—rose to the surface: a little girl overlooked in the chaos of a dysfunctional family system. How easy it was for my hurt to become activated. Even 50 years later, I’m triggered. I feel the pain.
I thought about trying to make light of it, as I did in the past, to hide my pain and shame. Having written out my neglect and abuse history, and looking at it with a clinical eye, I can see how my dysfunctional past created a wound in my soul. Even though I see it, feeling it is another thing.
My control wanted to manipulate and shame them for not remembering me. Somehow I thought this would make me feel better—superior and above it all. But the truth is, the wound in my soul can only be healed by God. I am responsible for my actions in dealing with the hurt. The pain of being forgotten may never go away: God would have to erase my memory for this to happen. The pain can soften, giving me the opportunity to choose a better, functional way to respond—which I am happy to say it did.
It’s incredible to think that we are all created with inherent value and worth. Created in God’s image carries a mighty power indeed. But we are born helpless. Without the care and nurturing of our parents, we would not live very long. God created us vulnerable, dependent, and needy. This is so we could come to know the nature of His love for us.
As we are developing through the stages of childhood, our parents represent God to us. What they say becomes truth. How they treat us translates into love. This is meant to reflect the nature of God—loving, caring, accepting.
Unfortunately, for many of us, we grew up with a distorted view of God. We grew up believing that we are not enough as we are and must strive to be accepted, noticed, and loved. But as we walk the path of recovery, we develop new strategies to help us change our beliefs about ourselves and God.
How did I respond positively that day? I used a tool to help me “dissect” my behavior chain. I also use this tool with clients to help get to the root of their hurt and pain. It’s a quick way to intervene in the cycle of destructive behaviors.
Here’s how it works.
Draw a triangle on a piece of paper.
In the middle of the triangle write down a situation where you experienced a trigger—a situation where unexpected emotions rose to the surface.
Below the situation (in the middle of the triangle) write the emotions you felt in the moment. Remember, feelings are one word: sad, forgotten, neglected, hurt. (Refer to the Feelings Wheel found in many Pure Desire workbooks if needed.)
Now label the tips of the triangle as follows:
Write what you were thinking during the situation, when your emotions were high. What are your thoughts about yourself and others? In my situation I was thinking, “See, no one really cares about you.”
What did you physically feel in your body? Write down what and where in your body you felt these emotions.
Common physiological symptoms may include a tightness or thumping in the chest, a rapid heartbeat, heat in the back of the neck, or shaky hands.
Write down what you did or what you felt like doing. What did you do (not what you believe you should do)? What were you urged to do. For example, “I had an urge to shoot back an email full of blame and shame.”
The Behavioral Triangle is a great awareness tool. It helps us dissect our behavior chain so we can more easily intervene in our own cycle of hurtful actions.
Give it a try the next time you want to understand your behaviors—when you’re feeling triggered and wonder, “What just happened?”
Developing a recovery lifestyle is a process that happens one day at a time and having practical tools is an essential part of the healing journey.
Like I said, getting sober from addiction is only the beginning of recovery.
Debby is a licensed Foursquare Pastor and one of our Pastoral Sex Addiction Professionals at Pure Desire. She has a heart for bringing healing to men and women who are broken due to sexual and emotional issues. Debby has her bachelor's from Corban University and has an Advanced Certification through International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). She contributed to Unraveled: Managing Love, Sex, and Relationships.