Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Options for Managing
a Personal Addiction

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/addiction.htm

Updated  02-03-15

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant psychological wounds. This article is for people who feel they may be (or are) addicted to something, and want to know their options. Companion articles suggest options if you feel your mate, a relative, or a child you care about may be addicted.

      This articles assume you're familiar with...

Are You Addicted?

      If you're not sure...

  • study these traits and see if they fit. If you're ruled by protective false selves, realize that your evaluation may be skewed.

  • Search the Web for "addiction assessment" resources

  • Learn the criteria for selecting qualified professional help to assess for the symptoms of one or more of the four types of addiction. The Web sites for the major "Anonymous" addiction-recovery organizations like AA, Al-Anon, OA, NA, ACoA, GA, FA, SAA, and CoDA are good starting points.

  • Study the resources at www.hazelden.org

  • Hire a qualified addictions therapist to help you make an honest assessment. Do not expect veteran therapists to know about false-self wounds yet. Option - refer them to this these articles and ask their reaction.

  • If you conclude you are actively "addicted" (wounded), decide if you believe that addiction recovery ("sobriety") must precede full recovery from psychological wounds. If you don't, expect to live with the constant possibility of relapsing..

Status check - on a scale of one (I'm sure I am not addicted to anyone or anything) to ten (I'm sure I am addicted now), what do you believe? ___

      Where would the people who know you best rank you on this scale now? ___  If you feel you're not truly addicted, why are you reading this? Note that there is no such thing as being "a  little addicted," any more than you can have "a little leukemia."

      Premise - if you have several requisites, you can manage (vs. cure) your addiction successfully - i.e. you can find a healthier way to reduce your inner pain. This article outlines these requisites and how to use them.


      Premise - all addictions are unconscious attempts to reduce significant "inner pain" - i.e. [shame + guilts + hurt + anger + confusion + fears + sadness + despair). Typical addicts (like you?) realize that their behavior hurts themselves and other people, but they don't know the cause of their inner pain, or a healthier way to manage and reduce it.

       After 36 years' research and clinical and personal experience, I propose...

  • you may have learned  to numb and repress your psychological pain since childhood, and will probably feel "I have no major inner pain!" If so, this is normal false-self reality distortion.

  • your inner pain has been caused by the effects of the [wounds + ignorance] cycle on your child-hood caregivers and you; and...

  • the "healthier way" to manage your pain and permanently end your addictive behaviors has four phases:

    • hit false bottoms, attempt "trial recoveries," and relapse one or more times;

    • hit true bottom - often in mid-life. You cannot force this to happen. Then...

    • learn about your wounds and ignorance, break your protective denials, and commit to some form of hi-priority 12-step recovery for at least a year; and as you do...

    • commit to using the ideas in Lesson 1 here to free your true Self and intentionally reduce your psychological wounds and pain, over time.

      The rest of this article outlines these phases, and links you to more detail on each of them.

Hit True Bottom

      Premise - a true addiction (toxic compulsion) cannot be controlled by "will power" or "logic" because it is caused by well-meaning Guardian personality subselves who rigidly focus on achieving short-term relief from inner pain at the expense of long-term unhappiness. To permanently stop addictive thoughts and behaviors, a wounded person must accumulate enough pain and despair to "override" these subselves - i.e. to "hit bottom" or "hit the wall."

      Some people are able to do this - often in mid-life. For various reasons, other addicts (a) hit one or more "trial bottoms" and relapse before hitting true bottom, or (b) they never hit true bottom, and endure increasingly unhappy, unhealthy lives until they die prematurely.

      Three key factors determine which course a person follows: (a) the composition of their personality, (b) the degree of psychological wounds that they've acquired  (moderate to extreme), and (c) the nurturance level of their current family and social environment (very low to very high).

      Implication: whether you've hit true bottom yet or not - if you want to end an unhealthy compulsion, honestly assess (a) yourself for psychological wounds, and (b) the nurturance level of your family and workplace or other environments. The knowledge you gain from these evaluations yields practical options toward reducing your inner pain and choosing a more nurturing environment.

      Lesson 1 in this nonprofit Web site offers concrete options and many resources to help you assess these two factors effectively and improve them. 

      For more perspective on hitting trial and true bottoms, read this article, when you finish this.


  • Are you controlled by a protective false self "too often"?

  • Have you hit true bottom yet? Note - if your true Self is disabled, a false self will probably distort your answer.

  • Where does maintaining your wholistic health rank in your major life priorities recently - as judged by your actions, not your words? Would other people who know you well agree with your answer?

  • Is your true Self answering these questions, or ''someone else''?

      The next phase of addiction-recovery starts when you...

Break Your Denials and Commit to 12-step Beliefs

        To start effective addiction recovery, you need to dissolve at least seven universal denials:

I am not significantly controlled by a false self (psychologically  wounded);

I do not have significant inner pain;

I do not have an addiction. I can quit any time I want to; 

I can control my life and of enough of my environment. I don't need help from anyone else;

I can live well enough without believing in and actively communing with a Higher Power

I can live life well enough without committing to the 12-steps and principles.

I am not denying these things.

Hitting true bottom makes it possible to want to replace each of these beliefs with their opposites without ambivalence, and without doing it to please other people.

      Some recoverers use 12-step meetings and programs to help dissolve their denials. Other people hit bottom and dissolve the denials first, and then evolve a meaningful 12-step program. A minority of true addicts are able to hit bottom and maintain sobriety without a 12-step program.

      Similarly, some people start harmonizing their subselves before starting preliminary (addiction) recovery, and others need to be in preliminary recovery for at least a year before being able to admit and start reducing their psychological wounds. Each person discovers their own path. 

  Do I have to adopt the 12-step ideas?

      To answer that, keep your perspective: people commonly associate the 12 steps with alcoholic recovery. In the last generation, 12-step "Anonymous" addiction-recovery groups like AA, Al-Anon, OA, NA, ACoA, GA, FA, SAA, and CoDA have spread internationally, to help manage all four types of addictions. That suggests the universal effectiveness of the 12 steps and principles.

      My clinical research and experience suggests - "Yes, you do need to adopt these proven principles on your own or by attending 12-step meetings and choosing a veteran sponsor as a guide and mentor. Almost 80 years of world-wide experience since AA was founded suggests that your odds of long-term health and recovery rise sharply if you choose to "work the steps." Reluctance to accept this is usually a sign of a distrustful false self.

      The basic reasons for adopting a 12-step program are...

  • the steps and principles help to break the seven crippling denials above;

  • learning from veteran recoverers; and...

  • meeting regularly with fellow recoverers and reaffirming the steps can significantly help to "stay on (recovery) course" despite distractions and inner urges to relapse.

Most recovering addicts  (Grown Wounded Children, or GWCs) are unaware of their psychological wounds, so they need to "keep coming back" to 12-step meetings to avoid relapsing. If you choose to admit and reduce your wounds, you'll probably find your need to attend meetings changes from essential to optional - socializing and helping others to recover (step 12). 

      Does your reaction to this idea start with "Yes, but..."? If so, suspect that a protective subself...

  • fears relying on some unknown principles and other people, and...

  • fiercely resists making changes that might threaten you, and/or cause the subself to lose control and power.

Note that a classic false-self fear is of the unknown (e.g. of change).

      You have many choices about if and when to adopt the 12-step philosophy and a related recovery program. Start by learning what the steps are, and what people who use them sound like. To avoid personal and social confusion, note the distinction between the 12 steps and the 12 "Anonymous" principles and 12 Traditions.

       A useful way to learn is to locate 12-step meetings in your area and attend an "open" meeting. These are for anyone interested in learning more about 12-step programs and philosophy. "Closed" meetings are for people in active recovery. They exist to protect the identity of the participants, which is based on the old misperception that addiction is a shameful lack of "will power."

      Option - interview anyone you know who is open about working to control an addiction. Typical women and men in true recovery are usually willing to discuss what they're recovering from, how they're recovering, and what the effects of recovery on them and their family have been so far.

How Can I choose an Effective 12-step Sponsor?

      Most people committed to a 12-step program eventually choose a sponsor to guide, encourage, and empathically confront them on denials. Choosing such a mentor is as important as picking a qualified doctor, lawyer, and therapist. How can you evaluate potential sponsors and make a wise choice? I suggest that candidates should have most or all of these traits:

  • be at least 35 or older (for maturity and life experience);

  • be a biological parent (if you are);

  • be married and/or divorced, if you are or have been;

  • have personal stepfamily experience and knowledge if you're in a stepfamily or may be;

  • have relapsed at least once in the past (not recently), and be willing to talk openly about that;

  • have been working an effective 12-step recovery program for at least 10 years;

  • have no signs of codependence or other cross-addiction;

  • have a firm belief in, and an active relationship with, a benign (vs. punitive) Higher Power;

  • be open to learning about the [wounds + ignorance] cycle, and evaluating its effects in his or her life and yours;

  • be willing to acknowledge the relationship between preliminary (addiction) recovery, and full (psychological-wound) recovery;

  • be skilled at patiently guiding you in understanding and following the 12 steps;

  • be genuinely empathic, affirming, supportive, and trustworthy; And an ideal sponsor will... 

  • be willing to confront you directly and respectfully on your false-self's protective denials, delusions, distortions, and evasions as you recover.

Option - with an open mind, reality-check these criteria with veteran 12-step recoverers who have experienced two or more sponsors in their own journey. Add their advice to these criteria.

+ + +

      If you're able to hit true bottom, break your denials, and commit to preliminary 12-step recovery, the next keystone requisite for solid sobriety is to...

Accept and Reduce Your psychological wounds

      Recall the basic premise here that all toxic compulsions ("addictions") are attempts by personality subselves to mute or distract from relentless inner pain. Do you fully accept that this idea applies to you now? If so, you're probably ready to act on what you're about to read. If not, you probably haven't hit true bottom yet.

      Are you motivated now (vs. "willing") to invest time assessing whether you have inherite2d significant psychological wounds? Any answer other than "yes" suggests that a protective false self controls you and you haven't hit true bottom yet. 

      Perspective - since none of us had perfect childhoods, we all have some degree of woundedness, so the real question is "How wounded am I?", not "Am I wounded?"

      If you conclude that you have "significant" wounds, then use the ideas and resources in Lesson 1 and its guidebook to evolve a personal wound-recovery plan that fits you. For perspective, review this article. It includes a summary of typical wound-recovery benefits.

      As a professional therapist in wound-recovery since 1986, I now believe that the most effective way to reduce false-self dominance is some form of 'parts work' or "inner-family therapy." Lay and clinical people who don't agree with this usually have no knowledge of personality subselves and wounds, and/or no direct experience with parts work.

      Part 3 of Lesson 1 here is a summary of "parts work." It is included the related guidebook (above). Part 3 includes a specific strategy for using parts work to overcome non-organic toxic compulsions like addictions (including codependence).

There are many other resources available now to help you reduce your wounds over time - books, programs, Web sites, support groups, and clinicians.

  Should I Tell Other People About my Recovery?

      Yes! An essential recovery resource is having several minimally-wounded, supporters who...

  • understand addiction and recovery basics

  • understand what you're trying to do and why;

  • are usually guided by their true Selves,

  • steadily empathize with and encourage you along your way,

  • confront you respectfully, if appropriate; and...

  • affirm your progress realistically.

The ideal supporters are your mate (if any) and other family adults - unless they are Grown Wounded Children in protective denial. Use this to decide if they are.

      Reluctance to fully disclose your recovery goals, efforts, and progress (or problems) usually indicates that...

  • some subselves distrust your Self to provide enough safety, and/or...

  • some wounded supporters might stress, rather than support, you.  

       Recall that an essential part of true recovery is to assess the nurturance levels of your home, family, and social environments, and then to work patiently to improve those levels where needed.


      This article builds on these addiction + personality subself + inner-wound fundamentals. It outlines preliminary recovery options if you feel you have one or more addictions. Full recovery is reducing your [psychological wounds + unawareness]. The article proposes three requisites for successful preliminary recovery, and suggests that managing active addictions is the essential gateway to full (inner-wound) recovery.

      The article proposes reasons why adopting a personal 12-step program is essential, and suggests traits of an effective 12-step sponsor. It also offers perspective on addiction and wound recovery if you're in a divorcing family or a stepfamily.

      As you work at "addiction management" and wound-recovery a day at a time, intentionally pass on what you're learning to any dependent kids and key adults. The best gift you can give your descendents is alerting them to, and working patiently to break, the lethal [wounds + ignorance] cycle together!

If you don't - who will?

       For more perspective, read these research summaries:

If you're concerned about a child, mate, or another adult who may be addicted, follow the links.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or someone else?

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