This following post, Finding Gratitude in the Shadows, originally appeared in the Sanctuary on the Allies in Recovery member site, The Sanctuary is dedicated to self-care for the family member, offering ways to take a breather or simply let go of what you’re carrying, for at least a few minutes.
Shadows are a Given, Reactions Are a Choice
Do you find yourself triggered by your loved one’s actions? Imagine you have prepared a nice dinner for you and your husband, but he hasn’t come home at the time he said he would. You know he is off at the bar drinking again. Your blood pressure rises as you think of all of the times this has happened before. Instead of withholding rewards, as we teach in Module 5, (available on our member site) and putting dinner away and going to bed, you choose to wait. By the time he walks through the door drunk and two hours late, you are fuming and you have the same angry shouting match you always have. He shouts back, the fight escalates, and you end up in tears, exhausted and incensed.
One of the benefits of the Allies in Recovery program is that it teaches you the skills you need to diffuse such situations. Allies in Recovery encourages you to pause, step back, and take the bird’s eye view. During that pause, we urge you to remember that how you respond is a choice. You can withhold rewards and remove yourself from the situation, or you can try the same old extreme responses that only make the situation more unbearable: “You are the worst husband in the world. I never should have married you. I would be better off without you.” Sound familiar?
This kind of negative, catastrophic thinking will get you into trouble. In such moments of frustration, you are too quick to assume the worst, to jump to conclusions, and to express these emotions verbally.
Shadows can only coexist with light
The next time your emotions are triggered, remember this simple fact: your loved one is not all good or all bad, just as life itself is never entirely good or bad. “Good” and “bad” are merely labels. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Of course, it is hard to remember our loved one’s endearing traits when you’re in the midst of an angry argument or they have once again disappointed you. Pausing is hard, but it is essential. Without it, you will find yourself lapsing into the same old, unhealthy communication and thought patterns. Next thing you know, you are consumed by catastrophic thinking and mired in angry, resentful emotions.
The psychoanalyst Carl Jung once asked this profound question: “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” The truth is that we all have a shadow side, but a shadow can only coexist with light. They are two sides of the same coin.
What if, in a moment of conflict, you were able to pause and recall some positive trait you appreciate about your loved one? Maybe it is their sense of humor or their creative talent. How well are you able to separate the illness of addiction from the person you love? Can you find the light of their humanity when their shadow side is staring you in the face? What if you could shift your catastrophic thinking and identify your loved one as “ill” or “sick” instead of “immoral” or “uncaring”? Could compassion change the destructive dynamic in your relationship? Remember that shifting these negative patterns is an important step in your loved one’s recovery. Your loved one is more likely to seek treatment and to come to you for help if they feel supported and accepted. And acceptance means acknowledging the good along with the bad.
Take a moment and check your own emotions
How have you and your loved one been communicating? Have you missed opportunities to put the Allies in Recovery program into practice? Have you found yourself feeling angry or resentful in recent weeks? Examine this emotion more closely. Are you tired? Are you taking adequate care of yourself? (Read our series of Sanctuary posts on self-care, available to our members).
Perhaps your dissatisfaction springs from the habit of constantly comparing your life to the lives of others, or to the ideal life you imagined for yourself and your loved one. What would happen if you were able to embrace what is instead of wishing things were different? (For more insight on this topic, read our Sanctuary post on accepting imperfection here).
And try to look for the positive
Or maybe you are allowing your thoughts to be flooded with negativity. Think about some of the positive things that have happened to you recently and record these in your private journal on our member site. You can write down thoughts, feelings and observations, helping you to see things more clearly. Also record some of the good characteristics of your loved one. What do you love most about him or her? Make a list in your journal. The next time you feel you are gearing up for a big argument, re-read this list. Visualize a different outcome the next time your loved one triggers your emotions.
Gratitude can be a life line when we are feeling angry, sad, or anxious. Gratefulness reminds us that light and dark always coexist. As the Japanese writer Jun’ichirō Tanizaki wisely said, “Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.”
The following video was shot in the small village of Carizozo, New Mexico. Pause. Breathe. Listen. Reconnect with yourself as you listen to the birds and watch the shadows of the trees at sunset.
A membership at Allies in Recovery brings you into contact with experts in the fields of recovery and treatment for drug and alcohol issues. Our learning platform introduces you to CRAFT and guides you through the best techniques for unblocking the situation. Together we will move your loved one towards recovery. Learn more here.