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 isn’t home at the time he said he would be. 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, and putting dinner away and going to bed, you chose to lie in 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.
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 our 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.
Before watching the below video, take a moment to check in with yourself. 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? (If not, reread our series of Sanctuary posts on self-care which starts here).
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, reread our Sanctuary post on accepting imperfection here).
Or maybe you are allowing your thoughts to be flooded with negativity. Think about some of the positive things that have happened to you in recent days and record these in your journal. 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.