In 1980 when I was 29 years old I entered a 7-week in-patient treatment program in Minnesota where I lived for my addictions – primarily to pot which I now realize I depended upon to self medicate my depression along with all the problems my 18 year infant-childhood of abuse had caused me that I knew nothing about. Today I am thinking about one ‘tool’ for clients to use to improve our lives that this state-of-the-art treatment program introduced: The Johari Window.
I have been thinking a lot lately about human ‘defense mechanisms’ that everyone uses to keep on going in their lives IN SPITE of painful realities within them that seem to need to be kept hidden and unknown for survival to continue. I have been wondering – hopefully without too much ego of my own – how it is that I can so often see not only people’s defense mechanisms in action but also see the hurts underneath that are so barely disguised they look to me like the proverbial ‘elephant in the living room’.
I find interactions with defensive people very difficult — it just seems to me that if we all could negotiate THE TRUTH with ourselves and with the help of one another everything would work out so much better!
For all the work I have done in putting together the first rough draft for a first book on my abusive childhood up to around age 10 ½ I am left with one main understanding about myself – true for as far back as I can connect with myself as a child around the age of two, true for myself now as an adult: I have always had the ability to recognize the truth.
Some part of me from the time I was very small knew my own truth with absolute clarity in the face of the terrible abuse that my mother did to me at the same time she created massive lies about Linda – who I was, what I did, etc. There I am as I find myself inside of memory after memory, there I am – the little person holding so firmly to my own truth that nothing on earth could shake it from me. Of course I had no POWER over what Mother did to me. But I did have the power to know inside of myself what was true FOR ME and what was NOT TRUE.
I was too young to UNDERSTAND what was happening to me. I used every human power my body possessed to survive the horrors of what was done to me, but I did not possess the power to make any sense out of myself in the world. That power began to awaken within me when I went through that treatment program to gain sobriety at the same time and for the FIRST time I began to recognize that what had been done to me for 18 years had even happened at all – and that it was ABUSE.
The Johari Window returns to me as a useful concept for recovery from ANYTHING humans endure –including abuse and addictions of all kinds – because it involves a method of learning how to recognize our TRUTH. If you click on THIS LINK you will see the picture that explains this process very clearly.
It explains how human beings separate off (dissociate) parts of the truth about themselves from their own awareness and how we can grow and heal by paying attention to how truth-hiding and truth-seeking operate in our lives. Here is a description of how the quadrant-expanding process can operate as it helps us to see what we share with ourselves, share with other people, hide from ourselves – and the secrets that we all keep together:
Open: Adjectives that are selected by both the participant and his or her peers are placed into the Open quadrant. This quadrant represents traits of the subjects that both they and their peers are aware of.
Hidden: Adjectives selected only by subjects, but not by any of their peers, are placed into the Hidden quadrant, representing information about them their peers are unaware of. It is then up to the subject to disclose this information or not.
Blind Spot: Adjectives that are not selected by subjects but only by their peers are placed into the Blind Spot quadrant. These represent information that the subject is not aware of, but others are, and they can decide whether and how to inform the individual about these “blind spots“.
Unknown: Adjectives that were not selected by either subjects or their peers remain in the Unknown quadrant, representing the participant’s behaviors or motives that were not recognized by anyone participating. This may be because they do not apply or because there is collective ignorance of the existence of these traits.
My personal bias is that health in self and health in relationships is directly proportional to the truth we know about ourselves – as we become stronger and more able to wisely share with others this truth. Defensiveness is always about protecting the truth so that un-truth ends up being what we live with. The bottom line of what kept my mother and our family so dangerously, painfully sick and abusive is that there was no truth. There were lies instead that were acted upon as if they were the truth.
This process started for my mother during her own overwhelmingly abusive and pain-filled, inadequate childhood. My mother’s developing body-brain changed in ways that then prevented her mind from ever discovering the truth in her lifetime. Her entire disease (most probably severe Borderline Personality Disorder) kept her alive by keeping the truth permanently hidden from her.
I believe active addictions operate in the same way, but I also believe that there is an ability in most addicts/alcoholics to find ways to see and handle the truth. I do not believe that true sobriety or recovery or healing will occur unless the truth is found and allowed to grow into a Tree of Life for that person.
I also have a personal bias that entry into a solid 12-Step recovery group is a necessity for this kind of major change – to turn from a life built upon buried-hidden truth into a life that allows the truth to become THE CORE of a person’s life – to happen.
“Putting the cork in the bottle” or stopping the use of drugs is NOT recovery. It is the doorway into recovery. Recovery is a spiritual activity, as the 12-Step programs try so hard to introduce and support.
All addictions use the same physiological body-brain chemicals as safe and secure attachment systems in the body-brain are MEANT to use. Because so many in active addiction processes suffered terribly as little children these chemical pathways have gone WAY off track. Twelve-Step programs offer a forum for insecurely attached wounded people to perhaps for the first time in their lives learn to live as HONEST, truth-seeking and truth-aware members of society. Healing then can begin on ALL levels of a person’s existence.
People can argue forever about what works and what does not work to help people quit using whatever drugs (alcohol is a drug, also) that they want to. I am simply expressing my personal opinion. I will also say that I do disagree with one of the commonly held beliefs about addictions and 12-Step recovery group attendance.
I DO believe that some people, given at least ten years of solid dedication to attending at least one good meeting a week (at least one meeting a day for the first 90 days), working the 12-Steps continually, and utilizing the wisdom and assistance of a sponsor with MUCH quality sobriety/clean time can eventually ease away from the strictest adherence to the program itself and do just fine IF they have the commitment to TRUTH in their lives that is needed for sobriety/clean time to be continued.
See also: *UNDERSTANDING AND TRUTH