Friday, August 17, 2007

The Story of our Desolation

As I am working through the 12 steps this time I am attempting to find spiritual disciplines that marry each step. Practices I can build into my life that not only enlarge my recovery, but also my spiritual life, shore up my emotional stability and find their way into my daily routine. As part of working Step 10 I began implementing the daily examen, never really knowing just how deeply this would open up my world. I have become more in touch with my own self because of this. I am finding truths about "me" that I had never given ear to before. The benefits of this bring so much life to not only my recovery but my well being and my relationship with God.

The guide I have been using for this has been Sleeping with Bread by the Linns. It has been incredible for me to find this simple, gentle way, written with such love and ease. It is truly a gift. At the end of the book there is a chapter of questions. I almost skipped this because they have done such a good job at answering my own I thought I wouldn't need it - I'm so glad I didn't. It's as rich as the chapters.

One of the major objections I have heard from people outside of recovery, most of them Christians, is that they struggle with the misconception that it dwells on the negative. "Hi my name is Heidi and I am a compulsive overeater" - I have heard that people think it labels the negatives instead of thinking on the positive healing that comes from recovery. I have also sensed from others through the years that people avoid it because they don't want to feel the negative emotions that come with recovery. That's what gets us into problems in the first place, right?

I have found the opposite to be true. Uncomfortable, difficult, but true.

The question asked in the book is:

You are encouraging me to be with and listen to desolation as well as consolation. I was taught to resist or go against desolation. Why are you saying the opposite?

An axiom that I have learned in recovery is "The good news is that you get your feelings back. The bad news is that you get your feelings back." I have found this to be true. All of the things that I had so stuffed down with food come back to me so frequently - and feeling the pain of the emotions is what got me into this in the first place, right? Actually, no. I have found that exactly the opposite is true. It is feeling the tinglings of the fear of the emotion and driving it away that got me here. If I had been taught how to own my emotions and fears instead of avoiding them I could have learned to do life without the crutches of my addictions.

The Linns answer the question this way:
We agree that our attitude toward desolation is somewhat different than you may have been taught. Our present attitude is somewhat different from what we were taught, too. We were taught that many of our desolations, such as feelings of lust, anger, etc., were sinful. Sometimes such feeling states were called "capital sins." The truth in this teaching is that we need to resist the impulse to act upon feelings in a way that would be harmful to ourselves or others. For example, feelings of lust if acted upon might result in promiscuity, or feelings of anger if acted upon might result in violence.

Yet this teaching often missed the distinction between acting upon feelings and listening to their story. Such teaching assumed that if we resisted certain feelings, they would go away. However, this isn't how our feelings work. When feelings are ignored or resisted, they grow inside us and are likely to eventually lead to an explosion in which we act out in even more destructive ways than we might have at first. We believe that what negative feelings or desolations really want is not destructive behavior but rather to have their story heard. When their story is heard they are satisfied and they quiet down naturally. If we then take steps to meet the needs revealed by the story, this desolation is unlikely to recur.

Our emphasis on hearing the story behind our desolation is consistent with the teaching of great spiritual writers like St. Ignatius. When, for example, we follow his suggestion to look at the beginning, middle and end of any temptation or his suggestion to discover the roots of what he called "sin," we are beginning to listen to the story of our desolation. Any process can help reveal the story of our desolation if it puts us in touch with what started it (the beginning), what keeps it going now (the middle) and what it needs to be resolved (the end). Contemporary psychology, which has helped us understand the nature of the unconscious, the dynamics of emotions and the results of emotional wounding, has given us new tools for hearing our desolations' story.
(Emphasis mine - especially the part about story!) Oh my - I just love it when something I believe to be true is affirmed elsewhere. It is so deeply moving to me. Like deep calling to deep. I think I need to read some Ignatius soon!


daisymarie said...

I'm going to go back and read this again and if you don't mind I might print it out. I work with people in recovery (at all stages) and they have voiced this struggle, especially as they have tried to balance their recovery and their church affiliation--or worse: when they have tried to figure out recovery and church squelches their search (insert big sigh!).

I, too LOVE when something I'm reading supports what I know in my heart to be true.

Tim said...

Christians seem to be scared to own their brokenness. They seems to think that they have been fixed/made better/not like that anymore/etc. They seem to feel that if they own up to their brokenness that they are letting the side down (or worse that they aren't a real christian).
If only they knew that God meets them in their brokenness. If only they allow themsleves and others to acknowledge their brokenness then they open themselves up to the possiblity of seeing God do something wonderful in their heart.

Heidi Renee said...

daisy - YES! please distribute as you see fit. thank you, i too LOVE when what rings true in my heart rings true with other people too!

tim - exactly - it is my experience that this is true too. so much healing is lost because of this.