Let Your Healthy Self Take the Lead
Those of us who are actively suffering from addictive disorders or are in recovery are intimately familiar with the addictive self, which stands in stark contrast to the healthy self we strive to bring forth in our ongoing journey along the path of recovery.
What precisely is our healthy self? As I understand it, our healthy self is our authentic self, the part of us that is fully aligned with the wholesome core values that at some level—often below the level of conscious thought—we aspire to embrace. Based primarily on my own experience, I believe that for many of us engaging in an ongoing dialog with our Higher Power provides an excellent channel for getting in touch with our authentic self and getting to know that part of ourselves more deeply, while gradually learning to let our healthy self take the lead in how we live our lives and conduct our affairs. I personally find it helpful to begin each day with a prayer for guidance to do what is mine to do today and let go of the rest. Many of us in recovery choose to practice one of the many forms of meditation, along with prayer, to quiet our minds and to deeply listen to the inner guidance from that still, small voice within.
In contrast to our healthy self, the addictive self is:
- selfish and greedy, constantly seeking instant gratification and an escape from life’s problems without expending the effort necessary to reap those rewards that truly matter,
- selfishly narcissistic, forsaking all concern for the well-being of others while becoming totally out of touch with what we need to do to truly take care of ourselves.
- rigid and enslaved, as the obsession to ingest into our lives whatever feeds our addiction—be it alcohol and/or drugs, food, compulsive and exploitative sexual activity or obsession with work to the detriment of other aspects of our lives—takes control of our lives.
Over the years I have either developed or borrowed from others a series of affirmations that I read each morning to help prepare for the coming day. A number of these affirmations are either taken verbatim or adapted from Unity’s Daily Word magazine, which can be found at www.unity.org/dailyword.
The affirmation I find most germane to the theme of this column is:
- I let my healthy self take the lead, as I approach this day with confidence, determination, and positive expectation.
Other affirmations in line with this tenet include:
- I trust that God will guide me to clearly and calmly focus on what is mine today. I turn the rest over, with full confidence that God will watch over me and guide me according to his will.
- An open mind and humble heart help me to learn and grow.
- In all aspects of life I walk God’s holy middle path with honor, integrity, and compassion, all grounded in right and honorable intention.
- I mindfully turn to God’s guidance throughout this day to bring a God-centered orientation to my thoughts, speech, and action.
Note that the last two items flow from the Buddha’s teachings in his sermon on The Holy Middle Path (Bercholz & Kohn, 1993). Of course there is nothing magic about this particular set of affirmations, I just find them helpful in getting my day off to a good start and letting my healthy self take the lead.
A Personal Example
I’ll recount highlights from my adult life to illustrate one man’s struggle to let his healthy self take the lead. When I was twenty-nine years old my first wife and I moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles and within less than a year we were divorced. Looking back on that time I am aware that one of the things that attracted me to Southern California was the “everything goes” mantra that seemed to permeate the entire culture. Throughout my thirties and early forties I played the California singles scene to the max, looking for love in all the wrong places and seeking instant gratification through a never-ending series of one-night stands. While my professional life was reasonably successful and I seemed relatively together from outward appearances, my inner life was a wasteland and I was cruising through life like a ship without a rudder.
In my early forties, while teaching health education and substance abuse at a local university, I was inspired by a guest speaker I brought in from AA and began to take an interest in the Twelve Step teachings. As I was quite alienated from any form of organized religion, I now believe that I was being guided to begin the journey back home, so to speak, through being introduced to the generic concept of a Higher Power inherent in various Twelve Step programs.
Toward the end of my three-year teaching post, I met a wonderful, newly divorced woman from Rhode Island named Ann, who eventually became my second wife. I was struck by her wholesome and genuinely caring nature that stood in stark contrast from my former partners over the past twelve years. We recently celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary and she continues to be the major grounding influence in my life.
While our marriage continues to be a major source of grounding and inspiration, I must confess that my ego-driven dysfunctional self took over way too often throughout the first two decades of our life together. I had a wandering eye and was overly flirtatious with other women, much to my lovely wife’s dismay. I also became overly obsessed with my career, which detracted from the depth and quality of our life together.
At age sixty-four we both retired from our “day jobs” and moved over 1,200 miles to an isolated community in Washington State where one of my wife’s daughters resided. Settling in I found myself feeling deeply despondent—it seemed that everything that had brought a sense of familiarity and positive identity to my life had suddenly been ripped away. The saving grace was that my despondency drove me to get down on my knees and pray to my Higher Power for guidance and direction. This intensive involvement in prayer and seeking guidance from on high was an entirely new, and at times frightening, experience for me.
After five years in Washington we made the move to Tucson, Arizona, which offered a much friendlier climate while being just a day’s drive of our former roots in California. When I moved to Tucson I decided to attend mass with Ann each Sunday to support her in her desire to return to her childhood faith. We befriended a marvelous priest, Father Dick, at the parish we attended. He was accepting of my resistance to affiliate myself with any organized religion, and invited me to join the parish as a lay non-Catholic member. I was surprised to find myself quite comfortable with this arrangement, and began to recognize the need for structure in my striving to become truly closer to my Higher Power. I welcomed the ritual and the homilies (sermons), and embraced the opportunity to open both my mouth and my heart by joyfully participating in the beautiful hymns that are an integral part of the Catholic tradition.
At home, as a prelude to my morning meditation I began an earnest practice of reciting affirmations together with heartfelt prayer, giving thanks for the abundant blessings in my life while steadfastly seeking guidance from my Higher Power. Over the past several years I have gradually learned to cultivate the qualities of humility and loving service. While Ann and I still have our struggles, as is the case with all couples, we have grown infinitely closer as I continue to learn to honor our sacred covenant of marriage and place her first in my life.
Am I letting my healthy self take the lead? I believe that this is now the case much if not most of the time. Of course I falter and stray from the path, sometimes big-time, but I am learning day by day how to turn my life over to God and pray that his will, not mine, be done. Whereas I was previously an extremely compulsive person who out of insecurity felt an intense need to control everything in my life, I now am able to approach each new day with gratitude and feel a tremendous sense of relief with the growing realization that God is in charge of my life.
I hope that my personal sharing may be of some help to those of you who are struggling to let your healthy self take the lead. As always, feel free to share this column with clients and others who may benefit from the message.
Until next time—to your health!
Acknowledgements: I wish to give special thanks to Reverend Pam and her husband Lane of the Unity Church of Port Townsend, Washington, and to Father Dick and Father Liam with St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Oro Valley, Arizona.
Bercholz, S., & Kohn, S. C. (Eds.). (1993). Entering the stream: An introduction to the Buddha and his teachings. Boston, MA: Shambhala.