"It is only in relationships with others and self that we develop our morality."
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Episode 104 -- April 12, 2021You vs. the World: Learning to See Our Interconnectedness
In Finding Your Moral Compass: Transformative Principles to Guide You in Recovery and Life, therapist and addictions specialist Craig Nakken outlines forty-one spiritual principles, each with a positive and negative counterpart, that we can use to guide our behavior. This excerpt describes how separateness—distancing ourselves from others, whether in an effort to protect ourselves or to deal with fear or other strong emotions—prevents those of us in recovery from seeing that we need others and that we're part of a larger whole. But when we move away from the negative end of the continuum of separateness to unity, we find that the connections we share with other people and the Divine allow us to step out of our own lives and contribute to the greater good. Nakken shares the success story of Becky, a recovering addict who once isolated herself. This excerpt illustrates the importance of finding the right community in our path to recovery.
This excerpt has been edited for brevity.
Separateness is a refusal to see the interconnectedness of all things, taking refuge in the pieces instead of celebrating the beauty of the whole.
Separateness tells us that we don't need others—that, in fact, they are burdens or pose a threat. This is a classic reptilian brain response, because reptiles don't need others. But we humans do. It is only in relationships with others and self that we develop our morality.
We may use separateness to preserve a delusion, so that the story we tell ourselves never gets challenged by others in the court of social interactions. We then get to be the king or queen in a kingdom of one.
Separateness, like most other negative spiritual principles, has its roots in fear. Our reptilian brain seeks separateness (or dominance) when it's afraid. Think of those intense fights we've all had with our spouses, our parents, or other people who are important to us, in which we say (or want to say), "Just leave me alone! I don't need this. I don't need you. Just let me be!" Then we fold our arms or place our hands on our hips, signaling the other person to back away.
Often we stay separate by aligning with others, but only those others who see the world exactly as we do. We and our allies then separate our group from the rest of humanity. This may look and feel like unity or loyalty, but it is simply a shared separateness, a kind of group narcissism.
Unity asks that we see the connectedness that envelops us and accept our responsibility to share Spirit with each other.
Unity is a sacred act of free will. It enables us to see that collective common welfare is only achieved when each of us contributes to it—and when we place the needs of the Divine ahead of the desires and wants of individuals, including ourselves.
Many years ago, I had the privilege of listening to Becky tell her story of spiritual recovery. She had suffered at the hands of abusive parents, and then was exploited by a minister who used her vulnerability for his own sexual satisfaction. Because of this, by the time she was an adult, she trusted no one.
Becky protected herself by becoming invisible. She became an expert at being unseen. She said little (just enough to get by), challenged people as little as possible, and had no relationships other than the simplest and most basic ones. Becky's main way of dealing with what life had given her was through her drug addiction.
Becky went through three unsuccessful treatments for her addiction. Each time, she managed to stay aloof and avoided changing her perspective or confronting her past. Her internal dialogue was mainly about why others were dangerous and not to be trusted. Each time, she was able to evade her counselor's efforts to connect with her and help her with her illness.
In her fourth treatment, however, she was more fortunate. She got a counselor who refused to not see her. As in past treatments, she spent as much time as possible alone, drawing. After a week and half, her counselor came to her room and demanded to see the drawings she had made while sitting tucked away from the others.
Although Becky had separated herself from people and from all close human relationships, she had kept open her connection to the Divine through her relationship with paper and pencil. Her drawings were horribly beautiful. Their honesty was shocking, their content deeply revealing.
Becky's counselor had her pin all of her drawings on the walls of the treatment center's community room. She sat in the center of the room and required Becky to sit beside her. Neither said a word as the other patients, counselors, and the director of the center viewed Becky's drawings.
The black-and-white drawings were mainly graphic depictions of a faceless girl being sexually violated. They brought most of the people who viewed them to tears.
That day was Becky's first day of being noticed and heard in a safe, caring way. Becky saw the profound effect her drawings had on everyone who viewed them.
Becky's edge and separateness began to soften when the director of the program brought her flowers and said through her tears, "I'm truly sorry for your suffering. Thank you for surviving. You are a true artist." Becky reached out and took her counselor's hand.
For the next four evenings, Becky drew at a fevered pace, working to expel the shards of evil that had been embedded in her soul. She redrew all of the pictures, and many more. This time though, the girl was not faceless; Becky's face was on each drawing. She had fought back evil with paper and a pencil.
On the morning of the fifth day, she asked her counselor for colored pencils. She said simply, "It's done. I'd like to draw a picture of the flowers now, before they fade away."
In the months that followed, Becky found her way back to unity and humanity. Today, Becky is drug free, does volunteer work with abused girls, and is a professional wildflower artist.
Questions for contemplation:
- When you're under stress, in what ways do you separate yourself from others in order to feel safe? What would happen if you acknowledged this impulse and told people about it? What are some things you could do to stay connected instead?
- When you feel like separating yourself from others, what emotions are usually present? Fear? Anger? Sadness?
- As of right now, where do you place yourself on the continuum from separateness to unity?
About the Author:
Craig M. Nakken, MSW, CCDP, LCSW, LMFT, is an author, lecturer, trainer, and family therapist specializing in the treatment of addiction. With over twenty years of working experience in the areas of addiction and recovery, Nakken presently has a private therapy practice in St. Paul, Minnesota.
© 2011 by Craig Nakken
All rights reserved. Published 2011