By Darren Littlejohn
The number one principle of Compassionate Recovery (CR) is to love ourselves and others.
As addicts or attached persons, most of us will need to train our hearts and minds to do this. The main purpose of the program is to enable individuals to love themselves enough. Enough to get clean, to build a life, to believe in oneself, to choose healthy behaviors and relationships. To educate oneself, to care for oneself and to develop as beings on the planet.
Compassionate Recovery (CR) is open to anyone who identifies as having attachments or addictions, at any stage, to any substance, event, process or person. Attachment is defined as an unhealthy bond, fixation, obsession or preoccupation that causes a life disruption. Addiction is attachment gone wild. Addiction causes more use, more problems, less control.
Compassionate Recovery sees Attachment and Addiction to be a spectrum. We will refer to this as the Spectrum of Addiction. I’ll go into more detail later. There’s a beginning, middle and an end. The early stages of attachment may be somewhat problematic if not serious, and may result in full blown addiction. Addiction may start small and get more serious, to the point where the individual can’t stop, even if they want to. It may result in serious life consequences, up to and including death.
Compassionate Recovery is about inclusion.
Unlike traditional recovery groups, such as the 12-Step model in Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, Compassionate Recovery seeks to have open doors and open hearts to anyone suffering from attachment-addiction. For continuity members will be better served if there is a need, rather than a passing curiosity. Normally attachment-addiction causes some level of distress, suffering, impairment or concern about life difficulties. For the comfort of members and the creation of a safe space, passerbys are discouraged. Otherwise the group will become a free-for-all. While open, there is a focus. That way we can see some results.
CR is open-minded and open-ended.
On the problem end of things, the program is open to anyone from any place on the Spectrum. We don’t diagnose or decide where anyone else may be in relation to the Spectrum. We can only define this for ourselves. On the solution side, again unusual from traditional perspectives on recovery, CR is open to all tools from all systems. Examples include spiritual systems such as Metaphysical Christianity, Shamanism, Buddhism, Yoga, Magick; Wiccan, Paganism, Hermetic, Tarot as well as Kabbalah, Islam, Taoist and others.
We don’t discriminate and we don’t preach.
We practice fundamentals but aren’t fundamentalist. Part of the practice of CR is to be compassionate to the beliefs of others and to give ourselves the gift of connecting with others even though our beliefs will differ. We have faith not only in some Higher Power, spiritual or secular truth, but we build faith and confidence, in ourselves. We build ourselves and use our strengths to be of service to others and our communities.
We can use tools from philosophy, psychology, medicine; traditional, holistic, naturopathic and practices such as massage therapy, acupuncture, energy healing. Members may or may not be on medication.
We don’t prescribe and we don’t judge.
We can discuss resources on self-help, motivation, personal finance, fitness, nutrition, relationships. In fact, regular individual meetings may focus solely on one or more topic and can change course as the needs of the group change.
Groups and meetings will be trauma sensitive. My friend Jamie Marich, author of Trauma and the Twelve Steps, has this to say about trauma and recovery.
“There has been a long-standing belief in 12-step circles that getting too deep into feelings will somehow enhance self-pity and cause alcoholics to further stir in resentment. Some of the origins of these beliefs come from what was perceived to be the failure of psychoanalysis in healing addiction–too much talk of feelings and history and all that ails us can breed more excuses. In my view, too many 12-steppers have taken this to the dangerous opposite extreme: all action and no indulgence in working with feelings. Yet in my experience, both personally and professional, we need both: a practical program of action and lifestyle change combined with an open-hearted and open-minded acceptance of people, their feelings, and their experiences. For many of us who grew up in dysfunction, ‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’ were the unwritten rules that served as the breeding ground for unhealed trauma to remain unhealed. So why on earth would be negate, invalidate, or shut down a recovering person’s need and right to talk, to trust, and to feel as part of their healing journey?”
Our meetings will be peer led, but there isn’t a required training program. There can be, but it isn’t a requirement. There are no gurus in CR, but you can have all the gurus that you need (just don’t sell it in meetings—proselytizing is not okay).
So how do we identify ourselves and how do we share in our CR meetings? One criticism of identifying ourselves as addicts in 12-step groups is that when we say “addict” we over identify with that aspect of ourselves. It’s part of who we are but not all of who we are. We re-wound and therefore re-traumatize ourselves on conscious or unconscious levels. Remember, we hear our self-talk. When we say things like, “I’m stupid, or crazy, sick,” our communication to our own heart is negative. In CR, we try to bring light to our hearts and souls and bring that compassionate light of healing to others. It starts in our own heads, with our own voices.
I propose that we identify as something like one of the following.
- I’m John, and I’m attached (non-specific).
- I’m Suzanne, and I’m attached to relationships.
- I’m Louis, and I am addicted to meth.
- I’m Bill and I’m addicted to alcohol.
- I’m Joanne and I am attached to some things and addicted to others.
Instead of saying, I am something, we give ourselves a little space to include that we are more than just an addict, alcoholic, co-dependent. I do this but I am not defined exclusively by this behavior.
In 12-step we use the identification so that we never forget. I’ve argued the value of this for years and it has its place. However, I think this approach is healthier.
In AA we have sponsors that take a person through the 12 steps. Sponsors often see themselves as therapists, gurus, financial advisors, relationship counselors, career mentors and social managers. Not always, but often. Though this goes against the 12-step principles, but it happens anyways. In CR we don’t have a sequence of steps to go through. We have a set of principles that can be added to or subtracted from. The principles and practices can be dipped into at any point. There is no set order.
But what about newcomers who have no experience? Who will guide them?
I’ll submit here an idea that I learned in yoga teacher training. We were assigned accountability partners. In yoga we chant OM, which is something like the sound of the birth of the universe, among many other meanings. So our partners were called Ommies. Cute, right? You can call your accountability partner whatever you want; trusted friend, sober buddy, regular old buddy, compassion partner. I like Ommie so I’ll stick with that.
It’s important to have someone to check in with, work on practices, attend groups and meditations, meetups and so on. As I wrote elsewhere, I’ve found a lot of success in using a Management Team approach.
With a Management Team, you’re not as likely to burn anyone out if you’re going through a lot of drama. You get different perspectives on your particular questions and issues. To set up this team, just write a list of 10 people that you’d like to include. They can be experts in a field, such as a real financial advisor or life coach. Long term friends, spiritual advisors, members of your church, sangha (spiritual community), yoga class, and nutritionists can all be helpful team members. Make your list, and add under each person’s name a couple of reasonable things you’d like to ask for in the relationship. It would be best not to make it too heavy. Spread your needs out amongst your MT, then add what you can offer to the relationship.
For example, if you have a skill or trade, some time to offer, make that part of your request. Once you have your list, contact your potential Management Team members and ask if they have a few minutes to discuss your partnership request. Explain that you’re in a recovery group and would love to have them be a part of the journey with you, even on a short-term basis.