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Recovery Takes Down the Walls of Self-Protection

 

I wasn’t born an addict. Between 2 and 5 years old, I was a happy young boy – curious, extroverted, and glad to be immersed in whatever fun came my way.

Then school began and suddenly the playing field wasn’t so safe. I was often humiliated and bullied as a little kid. It was painful and scary. To protect myself, I put up a wall built of thoughts like, “I don’t care what you think of me, and I don’t need you or anyone.” But behind that wall was an even deeper belief: “There’s something inherently wrong with me so I need to do everything I can to cover it up and hide.”

That’s when the walls of lying, pretending, and morphing myself into whoever I needed to be to be liked, got built. I became an expert at weaving entertaining stories about my make-believe older brother and sister who had near superhero qualities. My stories could swing from extravagant to sad depending on the audience. I learned how to get some laughs and a bit of positive attention once in awhile, but it wasn’t really me who was getting it. I was a fake, so when the friends left, I found myself alone feeling more empty and afraid than the day before.

These people are old and weird. I’ve got to get this problem fixed and get the hell out of here.

A childhood of building walls of self-protection makes for a young man who doesn’t know himself and is ripe for the relief that drugs, alcohol, sex, and dysfunctional relationships brings. Of course, all this insight is from hindsight. When I was in my 20s, I had no idea that I had all these walls of self-protection that were also blocking genuine love and relationships as well as health and happiness from occurring. I, like everyone I knew, kept myself insanely busy running in circles to avoid my feelings.

Fortunately, I quickly spun out of control and hit my bottom at 24-years-old. I will forever remember the church basement where a friend took me for my first 12-step meeting. I can remember the smell, the mix-matched, rickety chairs around an old, beaten-up table. I remember looking around the room thinking, “These people are old and weird. I’ve got to get this problem fixed and get the hell out of here.”

I also remember hearing a kind, older gentleman give the lead focused on his Higher Power, which he called “God.” Oh, great! Not only am I screwed by having to sit in this cold, smelly basement with crazy people – now they’re going to tell me about God!

One of the first walls I built around my heart as a child was specifically to keep God out! The God I learned about in church was a joke. The God I prayed to at night to keep me safe from bullying never showed up. God was for the weak and ignorant. I was too smart to believe in God. And yet, I needed God, or I was going to die. Somehow I knew that, and that scared the crap out of me like nothing else.

You and I both know the answer – “one day at a time”. One conversation at a time … one apology at a time … one terrifying break though that showed me I was not going to die by being vulnerable and real … at a time.

I did continue to attend the meetings. I got a sponsor who helped me to do my steps, which revealed that I was filled with shame, and had more walls around me to keep people out than I knew. I found out I wasn’t the only person surrounded by walls built for self-protection. I realized every addict was hiding behind walls that did a poor job of hiding fear, doubt, insecurity, and horrible abuses from childhood. I found out I wasn’t alone. That was great news, but taking those walls down? That was harder than I thought.

As addicts, these walls built to survive became our greatest obstacle to living. To be sober, we have to bring them down, but how? I personally spent a lifetime building them and depending upon them. How was I ever going to learn to trust people, and begin telling my truth (whatever the hell that was)?

You and I both know the answer – “one day at a time”. One conversation at a time … one apology at a time … one terrifying break though that showed me I was not going to die by being vulnerable and real … at a time.

There’s one more very important ingredient in the healing recipe – God. It was a big deal for me to even consider saying hello to God, let alone relying upon God to keep me sober and grow into a happy, healthy man. That took about 20 more years. In fact, I’m still in the evolution of that. But I’ll tell you about that next time.

Until then, become deeply interested in seeing the walls you have built around your heart. Ask yourself: Are they making you feel connected or separate from others? I think you know the answer to that one. What are they made of? What you’ll discover is that they are very similar to most people that you meet. Addicts aren’t the only ones who have built walls of protection around themselves … they are just the ones that are lucky enough to have a program of recovery that can help take those walls down!

Peace and love,

Mark Anthony Lord

Spiritual Counselor
Irreverent Reverend
Brother on the Journey


mark-anthony-lord-addiction-expert
Mark Anthony Lord is an expert in the area of spirituality and recovery. He assists people of all paths in awakening to their Higher Power that is deeply personal and greater than any addiction, trauma or fear. He founded the Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago and is the author of two books, The Seven Living Words and Thou Shall Not Suffer: 7 Steps to a Life of Joy. His most recent book, Bound by Religion – Freed by Love, will be released in 2016
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