The Shock of Recovery Discovery
By: Cassi Cox
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the position where something that didn’t ever apply to you suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks. It just happened to me. I was sitting in my substance use disorder counseling class, completely shook, as my professor walked us through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
I’m not in recovery, after all. I have never identified as addicted to anything except maybe caffeine, but that is a conversation for a different day.
I have not struggled with substance use disorder. In fact, I spent a large portion of my childhood and adolescence surrounded by those who did battle substance use disorders, so I committed to myself a long time ago that it was a path I would never walk down.
So how was it possible that I was sitting in a class discussing the 12 steps of AA, completely spinning out?
I quickly snapped a photo of the twelve steps, sending them to my husband. “I have been in recovery without realizing I have been in recovery,” I texted.
“???” He responded
“Replace the word ‘alcohol’ with ‘trauma responses and defense mechanisms.’ I have been going through this exact process over these last two years without even realizing it.”
“WOW,” he responded, followed by numerous shocked emojis.
Defense mechanisms and trauma responses can take over your life without you even realizing it… kinda like addiction.
I came to a place where I had to admit that I was powerless over these trauma responses and defense mechanisms. They had taken such control over my life that it had become unmanageable and I needed help. I could no longer power through it alone, pretending that I had it all together. This was so difficult for me because I have always had it all together. However, the recognition that I couldn’t do this alone was the first major step of my healing journey.
I knew that God was capable of restoring me. I had to come to a place where I recognized that the collective church was not the same as God. The church may have been complicit in causing me harm, but God was not. The church, and the people in it may have made it more difficult for me to heal but when I separated the people and the institution from who GOD truly is, I was able to recognize that God could give me restoration in ways I hadn’t previously understood. This led me to a deeper exploration of God and a willingness to go where God leads regardless of how that is received by those around me.
Steps 3 and 4
Because of this, I came to a place where I was willing to set aside everything I had been doing in my own power, my religious practices and my sheer will in order to accept that I couldn’t get it all together myself. I needed God’s will to dominate, and that meant starting with owning my ultimate vulnerability. This was, by far, the hardest part. If you know me at all, or if you have been following Find Your Roar for any length of time, you know that vulnerability is not my jam.
I found a therapist. I needed one anyway due to some of the struggles I was having, but through the work I began (and continue to do) I began what AA calls a “searching and fearless moral inventory.”
I didn’t call it that, of course. I wasn’t in AA. But I began to look at situations with more nuance. I began to truly analyze myself introspectively. I looked at the things in my life causing resentment and fear; guilt and shame. I identified “stuck points” and worked through them, honestly reflecting upon the areas where I held responsibility and letting go of the areas where I didn’t. This wasn’t a one and done process. It is ongoing.
It didn’t stop there, though. Over the course of the last few years, I spent a significant amount of time in reflection regarding the role I personally played in the dysfunction and heartbreak that has existed in my life, as well as the struggles I (still) have letting go of the things I have no responsibility over. I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I think of the role Jen, Deb and other close friends have played in this process for me. It is hard enough to process all of this internally within myself and with God. Adding that additional layer of trustworthy people (who reciprocally trust me) to work through it with continues to be incredibly cathartic. These people are priceless. If you are working your way through this yourself, who are your people?
Steps 6 and 7.
I have changed the way that I pray and the way that I worship. This has been a significant shift, and those closest to me can attest to the difference. I no longer treat prayer like an ask and answer session, nor do I treat prayer like a genie-in-a-bottle session. I don’t rattle off a list of the ailments and injuries of every person I know, followed by a quick, “Amen” My prayer ultimately looks like “Make me more like you. Help me reflect you. Show me the way to bring Heaven to Earth in this moment.” In those moments of prayer, my goal is to change the patterns I have been stuck in for so long.
Trauma responses and defense mechanisms served me at one point in my life. At one point- back when I was consistently existing within violent and dangerous circumstances, these responses were helpful and protective for me. They are not anymore. Now, when I engage in these reactions and responses, they do not serve to reflect Christ, to bring Heaven to Earth or the further the kingdom of God. Instead, they actually hurt those around me, damage relationships and cause confusion. If I want the world to be better, I have to humbly accept that I need to be made better too.
Lord, make me better.
Steps 8 and 9.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t make any lists of people that I had harmed. However, as I processed through all of this, I became very aware of the role I had played in pivotal situations in my life, and I became acutely aware of the need to take responsibility for that.
Some of these conversations were harder than others. Some were simple. I am certain that more opportunities for me to take responsibility for my role in a variety of things that have happened over the course of my life will present themselves, and I pray I can have the humility to embrace them.
In one instance, I wrote a letter. It was one of the hardest letters I have ever written, and giving it to the recipient was even harder. I am so glad that I did, though. It didn’t change anything. It didn’t solve every problem, it didn’t make everything better and it didn’t magic-away all of the history… but the weight I have been carrying for years and years is gone. I no longer have to live my life drowning in a sea of regret and self-loathing for the reactivity that was born out of my trauma. Not only have I owned that part of me, I have intentionally committed to turning away from it.
It’s crazy to me that this is an active step of the AA 12 step process, but I just did it because I knew I needed to. As I reflect, it affirms to me that these 12 steps are naturally healing, even though the evidence to support that is limited.
This battle is won, but the war doesn’t end. I will always have a history of trauma. My ACES score will not change, regardless of the amount of internal work I do. I will always need to be aware of the possibility that my trauma-responses and defense mechanisms could show back up, especially in moments of high-stress or activating events. Continuing to own my reactivity is critical.
I know that this is an ongoing journey. This started for me, about two years ago when panic attacks began to take over my daily existence. Since then, I have drawn closer to God. Every day, I release a little more of that need to control the end result. I am continuously aware that I cannot do this on my own, and I need the supports that have somehow, miraculously, been placed right in my path.
The spiritual awakening that I have experienced these last few years has been incredible, and my desire to carry the message of healing to others that have experienced significant trauma has increased tenfold. That is why this blog exists. That is one of the reasons “Find Your Roar” exists, despite everything our team has been through over the course of the last year.
We believe that God is ultimately good, and that you were created in God’s image. We believe that you were created to bring Heaven to Earth by living and loving the way that Jesus did when he walked this earth, and that doing so may mean taking a “searching and fearless” look at how your own trauma responses and defense mechanisms may be impacting that calling and design.
I didn’t know that I had been in recovery. I guess I still am, because once you are in recovery, you are always in recovery…right?
So, thanks for doing this with me, my fellow roar-ers. Thank you for being my “sponsors,” my “sponsees” and most importantly, my people. I couldn’t have gotten through all of these steps without you. And I know that when we, as survivors, continue to stand together arm-in-arm, we can continue to cycle through steps 10-12 over and over again, holding one another to account, holding one another up, and being stronger, united.
Be Bold. Live Out Loud.