“A seed must germinate in darkness before it can grow in the light.”
- Rev. Joel Osteen
As we go through life, we periodically go through various trials and tribulations that can seem to push us to our breaking point. These “tests” act as the pressure needed to facilitate growth and development on all levels- the weight that provides the resistance needed for us to become stronger. Ideally, we face these trials and tribulations and learn the lessons needed from them, allowing them to serve their purpose and allowing us to move on. However, this is often not how it plays out, particularly when these “tests” happen to us either during childhood or at a point during adulthood when we lack the sort of mental/emotional/spiritual strength or maturity to process these events and the data surrounding them. When this happens, we experience “trauma”.
Trauma in the physical sense is a wound or injury to the body. However, we all know that there are other types of “wounds” that can cut far deeper and do far greater long-lasting damage to us than any sort of physical trauma. This is trauma of the psychological kind. Psychological trauma occurs when an extremely distressing experience causes emotional shock, which can result in long-lasting psychological effects.
Psychological trauma stems from the perception that one’s personal safety or very existence is being threatened in some way, and is based first and foremost in the emotion of fear. Trauma can be created through various types of abuse, neglect or abandonment scenarios. Trauma can even be created by inconsiderate or unkind words and actions that create the perception of being ostracized from a group.
Human beings have evolved by working in groups for mutual survival, and in harsher times, being ostracized from a group could mean death. Evolutionary psychology shows that these primal fears are still very much present despite our current state of civilization and domestication. So the trauma of the individual who is ostracized from a group by ridicule can create a similar feeling of despair within an individual, even if their survival is not really at risk- especially if belonging to that group is important to them.
In his book, “Dispelling Wetiko”, author, councilor and spiritual healer, Paul Levy describes psychological trauma and how it manifests itself:
“Trauma happens when we suffer an overwhelming event which we cannot assimilate into our being in a typical way… trauma fragments, disassociates, and disconnects us from our perceptions… In trauma, people typically alternate between feeling numb and compulsively reliving the traumatic event in some form… When we are in trauma, we unconsciously act out the unhealed wound in literal and disguised form, both within ourselves and out in the world, traumatizing and terrorizing others around us as we, in our attempt to resolve our trauma, simultaneously retraumatize ourselves. When we are unconsciously acting out our trauma, we are not in the driver’s seat, but rather are being compulsively driven by the overpowering daemonic force encoded within the trauma.”
An example of this sort of “living trauma” can be seen in the individual who experiences sexual trauma at a young age either through being a victim or witness of sexual abuse; being subjected to a traumatic procedure (i.e. infant circumcision- and yes there is plenty of scientific data to support this); or an individual who goes through some intensely ostracizing shaming experience around their sexuality and/or sexual orientation. Unable to process this trauma in a healthy manner, this person later develops a sexual compulsion based in escapism and numbing the pain of the initial trauma, as well as any other traumas accumulated afterwards. This unfortunate individual goes on to spend their teenage and adult life compulsively masturbating to pornography for hours on end and/or “acting out” in a variety of risky sexual behaviors and situations that often become progressively more detrimental and dangerous to the individual and others around them. The individual recreates the trauma over and over again through their sexual actions while simultaneously attempting to find “healing” and escape from their internal pain by satisfying their own self-destructive urges. This is the insanity of the sex addict who seeks to heal himself by destroying himself.
Levy goes on to describe how trauma “polarizes consciousness into opposites; split in two, we become simultaneously perpetrator and victim.”
In extreme cases, this sort of personality separation phenomenon can create multiple personality disorder psychosis. In trauma-based mind control utilized by various military and intelligence agencies, extreme forms of psychological stress are placed on the subject with the goal of causing a splitting of the personality. The split takes place as the victim attempts to take refuge within a part of his own mind, to escape the torture being perpetrated upon him. When this happens, a sort of separate persona can be created, which can be useful for the creation of unknowing assassins, that are “turned on” by various cues.
The addict who lives a dual life exhibits their own form of multiple personality disorder, where the person who is “in their addiction” thinks and acts completely different than the sober version of themselves.
However, even outside of extreme circumstances, personality split is present in pretty much everyone to some degree or other and will outwardly manifest when the right “trigger” is pulled.
While most people do not suffer from the sort of severe personality split of the schizophrenic or trauma-based mind control victim, most people DO have what is referred to as “the Judge” and a “the Victim” in their psyche. The Judge is the one who is speaking in our minds when we are shaming and persecuting ourselves and beating ourselves up. Meanwhile the Victim says “Woe is me! It’s everyone else’s fault! I’m being persecuted!”
In Toltec philosophy, each person has what is referred to as “The Parasite” living in their psyche. This parasite is said to be composed of both the Judge and Victim aspects of ego-consciousness. These are components that act to divert the individual away from his or her highest potential, and can be found in the two main types of negative self-talk we engage in- judgement and victimhood.
The Toltec philosophers point to human domestication as being the primary culprit, where we are all placed in a sort of reward/punishment paradigm at a very young age, in which we are taught which behaviors and beliefs are acceptable to those who have power and influence over our lives.
While the degrees of intensity and destructiveness may vary, I can say with relative certainty that all individuals have suffered some sort of psychological trauma and all individuals have psychological characteristics developed because of said trauma as well as resulting from the belief systems that they have adopted. I can also say with relative certainty that every person has “quirks” resulting from these things that are annoying at best and sabotaging in some manner who they would like to be.
When not fully processed and worked through, trauma adds to what psychology pioneer Carl Jung referred to as “the shadow”. In his book, “Owning Your Own Shadow”, renowned Jungian analyst, lecturer and author, Robert A. Johnson described the shadow as “that part of us that we fail to see or know.”
The shadow is the opposite side of the ego which is the part of our psyche we are conscious of- our “identity”. The shadow resides in the subconscious/unconscious mind and is the accumulation of those parts of ourselves we have not integrated into our conscious identity. These are the parts of ourselves that we hide from loved ones, acquaintances, the world in general, and even ourselves. However, these things by their very nature will make themselves known in one way or another, as Johnson states:
“… the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own- the shadow life. The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness. It is the despised quarter of our being. It often has an energy potential nearly as great as our ego. If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage or some indiscretion that slips past us; or we have a depression or an accident that seems to have its own purpose. The shadow gone autonomous is a terrible monster in our psychic house.”
Sadly, for most of us in this modern age, the subconscious has become the dumping ground for every toxic emotion and destructive belief system we have ever held on to, making the shadow a particularly messy and even dangerous place. However, what is contained within the shadow is essential for our spiritual growth and development, as the shadow contains what Jungians refer to as our “gold”. Our gold is our true life’s purpose- our mission in the world- our destiny; as well as what we need to carry that out. But, as in many heroic epics, the path to the treasure is always treacherous and the gold is guarded by a fearsome dragon. The reclaiming of our gold will take every ounce of courage we have.
In order for us to claim our gold and fully realize “The Kingdom of Heaven” within ourselves, we need to go through a process of transformation. This is a process of transformation akin to the caterpillar that transforms into the butterfly- ugly and beautiful at the same time. It is a process of death and rebirth. In order to bring this about, we need to let go of the various ways of thinking, doing and being that are dictated by past trauma and the “shadow gone autonomous”. But how can we possibly bring about such a transformation?
One of the greatest processes for transformation I have personally ever encountered and worked with is the 12-step program used for addiction recovery. Originally developed in the 1930s and spread by a man known as Bill W. and the other founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-step programs have been instrumental in creating positive change and radical transformation in the lives of millions of men and women around the world. The 12-step model has proven itself universally applicable for any type of addiction or compulsion. From foreign substances like various categories of drugs, to compulsive gambling, all the way to addictive/compulsive behavior around food and sex- two of the most primal human urges.
Now some circles debate as to whether or not an addiction is “real” if there is no physical substance involved. However, the proven creation and changing of neural pathways in the brains of folks who are addicted to crack and those who suffer from the “non-addiction” of compulsive pornography use, and their similarities shows how compulsive behavior is imprinted into the physiology. I also assure you that people with behavioral addictions go through withdrawals as well.
Some of you reading this may know people who are or who have been in a 12-step program. Perhaps you may have even been in or currently are in one yourself. I’m sure however, that there are those who may be saying to themselves, “Yeah, that’s a great program for addicts, but I’m not addicted to anything”.
So for all the “non-addicts”, let’s play a little word-association. First, we have addiction. Addiction is defined as “a state of physiological or psychological dependence on a drug liable to have a damaging effect” or a “great interest in something to which a lot of time is devoted”.
Next, we have the underlying psychological force behind addiction which is understood to be compulsion. Compulsion is “a psychological and usually irrational force that makes somebody do something, often unwillingly”.
Lastly we have habit, which in common slang is often used to describe an addiction to a drug, etc. However, the technical definition of a habit is “an action or behavior pattern that is regular, repetitive, and often unconscious” or “somebody’s attitude or general disposition”.
What we really are looking at here is the same basic psychological force in varying degrees of extremity. The severe drug addict will seek their addiction over food and shelter, while someone who simply has the habit of projecting their anger and frustration onto those around them reaps the consequences of self-imposed isolation. Neither of which are productive if we wish to seek our “gold” and be content and whole human beings.
I’m here to present the case that unless you have miraculously made it through your life “unscathed” by the trials and tribulations of modern day life- unaffected by past hurts, family and relationship issues, and the pressures and conditioning of modern society; you probably have irritating habits and compulsions. You probably have past traumas and hurts that have created beliefs about yourself, others and the world, that are in turn driving unconscious compulsions and habits that are in some way harmful or unproductive. I am here to suggest, “addict” or not, that you probably have some letting go to do.
You may not be addicted to any substance, but you are more than likely at very least “addicted” to a specific way of thinking and acting in the world that seems beyond your ability to change. Maybe you act unthinkingly and impulsively towards ourselves and others. Maybe your life is “drama-filled” and you can’t figure out why. Maybe you feel your own life is out of control, so you seek to control the lives of others. Maybe you are continually going through endless cycles of depression and dissatisfaction with your life. Maybe you find yourself wandering aimlessly, continuously seeking happiness and meaning outside yourself, only to be disappointed again and again. Maybe you find that you need to “escape” from the grind of your daily life through any number of distractions provided to us by society and media.
But maybe you feel, “that’s just who I am.” If that works for you, that’s fine. But for those who feel that our individual nature is not “fixed”, and that we are in a continual process of becoming; of growing and evolving; those who feel they are in need of “change”- my desire is to be of service to you here.
In his “Changing Habits and Overcoming Addictions” episode of his podcast, Toltec spiritual teacher and student of Don Miguel Ruiz, Gary van Warmerdam had the following to say about the universality of “addiction”:
“Our biggest habits and addictions are the assumptions, interpretations, and stories we tend to believe in our mind; putting our faith in lies, misinterpretations, false assumptions, fears. These are things we do more often than anything else.”
As stated earlier, addiction and compulsion are components of the same psychological phenomenon. An addiction is a compulsive dependence; a seemingly uncontrollable urge to partake in or do something that one may know on some level they should not, but is beyond their personal willpower to stop. A compulsion is a subconscious draw or desire to do something that is beyond the will of the individual to control. This desire and habit is often misread by the person partaking in the compulsion as a “need”. They need to do this or they need to express themselves in this manner, as that is just who they are.
Take a person given the label of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They may feel a need to wash their hands with exactly 7 ½ squirts of Dial brand (no other) soap for exactly 3 minutes. They may then proceed to dry their hands making sure that the water residue is equally distributed across the hand towel then proceed to fold said hand towel precisely in half. They will then be sure that it is hung on a rack that is on the north side of the bathroom- it must hang on the north side.
Reading the above scenario, you may be saying to yourself, “This person doesn’t NEED to do any of this.” But in their mind they do. Their mind has become dependent on this. They are “addicted” to this behavior. However, let us not be so quick to judge. How many habits and “personality traits” do we have that others may find to be distasteful, annoying or downright ridiculous? How many habitual ways of being do we have that are causing us to live a life other than the one that would give us true fulfilment and sense of purpose?
As the saying goes, “happiness comes from within.” The same can be said for suffering in all of its forms. The origins of our suffering and our discontent comes from within our minds- from both the conscious thoughts and stories that play in our heads nearly every waking second of our lives; as well as the subconscious beliefs and pains of the past that we hold onto. These are the elements that create our emotions.
The 12 steps work to shine a light on those places where the “monsters” of our own making live. These are the monsters that cause everything from addiction and severe compulsive behavior to depression and anxiety to general dissatisfaction and disappointment with one’s life. The 12 steps in their basic form are as follows:
Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over our addictive behavior- that our lives had become unmanageable
Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in our lives.
Through my own personal journey working the steps, I came to the realization that the principles laid out in the 12 steps were not just beneficial for “addicts”, but could be universally beneficial for people of all backgrounds. With that in mind, I humbly present the universal 12-step program- the 12-step program for the world:
Step 1: We admitted we felt powerless over habits, compulsions, beliefs and/or ways of thinking, acting and reacting that seemed beyond our control- and as a result, our lives somehow lacked the freedom, happiness, meaning and love we deeply desired.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could bring us to a place of freedom, happiness and love.
Step 3: Made a decision to surrender our personal will and lives over to that “Higher Power”; the force that some call “God” which dwells within us and all around us.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to surrender our character defects and erroneous beliefs to our Higher Power as we understood It.
Step 7: Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had wronged and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power as we understood It; praying for knowledge of this Higher Power’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we worked to carry this message to others and practice these principles in our lives.
As you can see, some changes were made from the original 12 steps. I did my best to make it more applicable for those who may not have “addictions”, per se. I also changed some wording to provide wording alternatives for people who have a hard time with traditional concepts of “God”. Meanwhile, certain things like the inventory and the amends process I did not alter at all.
The 12 steps are tried and true “shadow work”, requiring us to reflect upon our lives, recognizing the negative patterns so that we may eventually surrender them, allowing healing to take place in ourselves so we can work for the good of others.
If you feel called, I invite you to go on this journey into the depths of your being. It will be hard at times, but I assure you that the rewards far outweigh any emotional hardship you may encounter.