An excerpt from The Creative Fire: 10 Weeks to Emotional and Creative Fitness
By Dr. Bob Beare, PhD
Most of the first half of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous drives home the point that recovery is hopeless without a re-connection to feelings that can only be experienced fully in the presence of someone who has what you want. Every person with addictive tendencies has tried to change the behavior without support – usually many times with unsuccessful and sometimes disastrous results. In that example, the channel for connection is another recovering alcoholic or addict. But it is a concept that is for anyone who is surrendering on a regular basis to feeling deeply, and who is committed to healthy creative living, one day at a time.
There is a 12-step program for nearly every struggle known to man. In fact, in many Mexican cities, there is a very popular program called Nueroticos Anonimos which is a BYOB (bring your own battle) program. In some U.S cities, there is a program called Arts Anonymous, which is right down the ally of those of us trying to recover our creativity. Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfuntional Families (ACA) is for anyone with trauma…all of us at one level or another. I suggest this program to nearly all of my clients unless they need a substance abuse program first. Most 12-step meetings provide a well-structured, safe environment to acknowledge our inner experience and look at the behaviors that keep us stuck. Usually there is a no-crosstalk agreement that gives space for expression without having to worry about someone giving advice or opinions on what is shared. The unsolicited advice of others is often what shut us down in the first place. Hearing others who struggle similarly, even if the drug or behavior is not exactly the same, can be a great release for that part of us that gets caught up in thinking no one can relate to our problems.
The idea that my problems are profoundly different than anyone else’s can be referred to as the “terminally unique” syndrome, and it contains a bit of narcissistic rationalization that is very effective in maintaining a life of isolation. In a Bob Newhart sketch on “Mad TV” (See YouTube), he uses a less than subtle therapeutic technique screaming “Stop it!” to the obsessive-compulsive patient. Though primitive, this directive is suggested for all of us who isolate and want to be in creative recovery. Stop it! An Internet search for 12-step programs will give you all the information you need to start, or return, to that particular path.
Therapy groups are another place to find permission to share our secrets and shadows, release trapped emotions, and find a new creative energy for life. You can find a variety of action therapeutic styles including psychodrama, gestalt, and others that focus on giving space for depth exploration. Most group therapists use a combination of interactive techniques and you can interview several to find what works for you. But therapists and therapy groups that focus solely on the cognitive or behavioral processing will only be marginally useful for opening up the creative fire.
If you want to take a quantum leap toward emotional transformation, the strongest work for men is the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA). The weekend experience was co-developed by Ron Hering, PhD, one of the leaders of the transformation and encounter group movement of the 70’s. And for women, it is the Woman Within weekend or the Women in Power experience. The or The Brave Heart Experience (BHE) is for men in recovery. These are formal initiations. I do not mean formal in the black-tie sense, but in the traditional culture sense. The processes are expertly facilitated and are a contemporary invitation into an ancient and more passionate connection to life. Additionally, these mostly volunteer-led organizations provide follow up groups that become, for many, a lifetime circle of healing and support. The NWTA is associated with the ManKind Project International and you can find out more information at www.mankindproject.org. You can find more info on the BHE at braveheartexperience.com.
Some churches have programs that are facilitated by experienced counselors or lay people with a gift for giving people space to feel, such as grief groups, divorce groups, and prayer groups. As is the case with all of these suggestions, be sure the philosophies of the facilitators and the processes they utilize are aligned with your personal values.
Those of us who have chosen this path of consciously learning more about ourselves, others, and nature also know the nagging inner voice that says, “You’re not there yet.” It’s not necessary to always live in that tension, especially if it takes on a “you’re not enough” flavor. But, when we are at our best, these angels of humility can keep us teachable and tolerant of the discomfort as we step into the next level of growth.
What we’re up to here is finding balance between connection and solitude. For the introverts, an inch toward group work can stir the creative pot, and, for the extroverts, some increased inner work may be transformative. Balance can be defined as getting used to imbalance. For this, we must be willing to go beyond our comfort zones.
It’s important to know how we’re built as we make choices about our commitment to healthy solitude and connections with others. The Myers-Briggs personality profile is based on, but not wholly consistent with, Jung’s exploration of typology. One of the scales identifies the tendency toward introversion vs. extroversion, meaning our innate style as related to social interaction and solitude. I’ve always tested on the fence between these poles, but have lived a decidedly extroverted life and have consistently wondered why a palpable internal tension existed. My introverted side needs quiet time (meditation, writing, drawing, nature, etc.) or anxiety and related destructive patterns will try to take over. Anxiety can point toward areas that need attention. Moving toward solitude and quiet may be a deep need but putting ourselves there may not be comfortable.
Trust what you know about yourself and how you truly get energized through solitude or through process time with others. A life coach once asked me to be aware of “what drains you” and “what energizes you.” Also, keep in mind the areas of your life that may be out of control or out of balance as you continue your path toward a deeper experience of life.