Friday, June 16, 2006

Recognition of the Unmanageable

All 12-step programs begin with the recognition that you can no longer control your life. Where a twelve step program and grief recovery part ways is that in a twelve step program your life is unmanageable, out of control, because of a compulsive or addictive behavior (such as alcoholism or drugs or overeating). In grief, things are out of control because the pain is so intense it overwhelms your habitual coping mechanisms and breaks or severely derails them -- at least for a time.

In both situations, recognizing what is happening is a major step. Time will dull grief and restore you to control, but it takes a lot of time, and without attention and effort you will not find recovery (I'm not sure that is the right word, but I'm not sure healing is the right word either). In grief it is the scope of the devastation that causes people not to realize just how bad it is, that, and modern society fails to prepare us for acknowledging and understanding grief. In compulsive behavior situations it is usually accumulated denial that prevents one from understanding. In both cases, recovery is as good a word as any to describe the pathway back to life.

I'm thinking of doing a series of essays about various twelve step concepts vis a vis grief. Had the Oxford Groups not disintegrated, I'd probably be talking about their six steps instead, but I think the twelve steps, and the goal of recovery, are probably more useful for grief than the drive to find a true spiritual experience (as core as that is). There are a lot of places the two part ways, but many insights that are useful.

As an aside, a key communication skill: use the word "and," never use the word "but." Never "that is a good color on you, but ..." instead, say "that is a good color on you, and ... " If you can't substitute "and" for "but" in whatever you were going to say, it probably needs not to be said. For some more pointers, you can visit

I am still really enjoying returning to Judo, though I'm convinced I just need to start over from stratch, as if I'd not worked out before. I'm lucky to have the best instruction I've had in my life in Judo, and some of the best martial arts instruction I have ever had. If you are in the metroplex, I'd recommend Dallas Judo to you. I'm going to be in the adult novice classes for a long time, but hope to see you there.

On a political note, Conservative should mean '-Concern. Conserve. Constitution. Consistency. Conscience. Contriteness. And, always, always - Consequences.-' After all, "Once upon a time there were real "Conservatives." They believed in fiscal and political responsibility. They expounded on the virtues of getting government out of people's lives. They talked about caution with regard to the use of military force and foreign intervention. They even promoted a policy of governmental accountability." I may not agree with much that is said by others, but I can agree with "Concern. Conserve. Constitution. Consistency. Conscience. Contriteness. And, always, always - Consequences" (note, I'm changing the quote, just a little, then quoting what I agree with, which is the changed quote).

I'm not happy with the way the right or the left are going. One seems like a drunken uncle, spending the rent money, the other seems like a crazy co-dependent aunt, overun with cats (and no, I didn't have a drunken uncle or a crazy aunt in real life, but I had friends who did). Of course I may just not understand.

But I'd like to see more care, concern and compassion.


Anonymous said...

I have never been to a 12 step meeting or had any therapy that targeted abuse other than a brief discussion. The word recovery in such a context was something I noticed in the language of a few of my online friends who have been incredible examples. I am writing a poem that is still a rought draft. Well, who knows if I will polish it later. Here it is.
Paralyzed to move ahead, they try to give me hope./ They are survivors trying to teach me the ropes./ I have at times become so used to the good and the bad that I know./ They tell me that I cannot accept the status quo./ And I am touched by how much they care/ And I am amazed by the stories of what they have overcome that they share./ I am so afraid to disappoint them and fail. I have been sick so long it is hard to believe that I can be well. I have faith in God but not faith in me. In some ways the world is distorted and I cannot really see. I wish the survivors could accept me where I am broken/ Because when they expect too much of me sobs start me choking. But as much as I like them and their desire for me to be free. I have to fight to survive for me.

annegb said...

"Of course I may just not understand" AND I'd like to see more care, concern, and compassion.


Very good advice, Stephen.

I haven't found the 12 step approach helpful in my grief work. Nor did I find labeling--you know, anger, denial, all that stuff.

What has helped me the most is the validation I get from others going through the same thing.

Stephen said...

What has helped me the most is the validation I get from others going through the same thing

That is the core element of successful grief programs, the validation that is given to know that what is happening to you is normal, human and a common experience for those in grief.

It is a different kind of recognition, but many people in grief don't realize just how intense or significant the experience is. Nothing prepares them for that. On TV, grief is over by next week.

I'd agree that there is a lot where the two (12 step programs and grief) do not connect, but I find the insights useful, especially when looking at life.

Anonymous said...

I have never really grieved that much in my life so far. But I have gained a lot from those who have had experiences far worse than mine who have not minimized what I have been through with abuse. I think people have unrealistic expectations for me to improve given my Catch 22 life. However, due to a "touch love" intervention kind of thing by my best single guy friend, I am going to order a book on ocd. Even if I improve a little, that can make a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

I changed a couple lines in my poem. this replaces the sentence with broken and the one with choking. I did not actually cry because of my friend expecting a lot of me. I do worry a lot about disappointing him. Well, here is the revised version. I would like them to see the good in me and accept me where I am broken. I would like them to see what I have overcome instead of always focusing on what I need to work on.

Joe G said...

SM -

Recovery is definitely an apposite word. You don't "heal" after grief strikes you. You recover. Healing is from a wound. Recovery is from a blow, or an illness, or a time of weakness.

You approach the state of normality again, but you never lose the experience of having been struck or laid low.

Also, I agree with you about conservatism. Also: Liberalism.

Liberals existed once, and do today, and will again - but they are not necessarily the same as the liberal agenda of today.

the Liberal credo: Freedom. Personal autonomy and responsibility. Group accountability. History as a lesson not as a bedrock. Progress. Equality. Respect. Choice. Peace rather than war. Openness rather than secrecy. Kindness rather than cruelty. Education rather than punishment. Rehabilitation rather than vengeance. Love rather than hate. Life rather than death.