Addiction, Vulnerability, and Courage: A Wider Path

Wen-Shwu Lee writes that vulnerability, courage and connection are real alternatives to addiction.

Wen-Shwu Lee writes that vulnerability, courage and connection are real alternatives to addiction. She and Cathy Wilder are leading Transform Addictions: Widen your Path in RecoveryMay 17–20.

I have learned many things through my training at The Haven. The one thing that has come to the top of my list is being vulnerable – which surprises me and overturns all my school training. In most of my school and social training, I was expected to get on to this one-way path – the path of glory! Be good, be better, be perfect, and make no mistakes! Therefore, in my younger life it was so hard to reveal the other side of myself – my darkness, my emptiness, my shame, or inadequacy! As a compensation, I in turn go pursuing external comforts, such as higher marks, a better income, a larger house, a better body image, etc. Maybe I find temporary satisfaction, and sooner or later I will fall again, because I never really address my internal void and yearning – which is thirsty to be heard, to be seen, and to be nourished. In that externally driven cycle of not-good-enough and try-harder, I either addicted myself into higher excitement or into numbness to get through the empty or meaningless feelings inside – for me it’s my addictions to work, food, or relationships. I know for others it may be drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or nowadays internet gaming, or the cellphone. We become victims of our addictions. Outside we may appear strong and well, but inside we are confused, lost and deadening. Like Alice Miller said, “Our addictive behavior is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood.”

When I heard Brene Brown say, “Vulnerability is the measurement of courage!” the words resonated with my Haven training – this interesting idea literally changed my life! For years I have been practicing an opposite lifestyle from getting better to getting worse (what a revolutionary idea)! Or more accurately, accepting I can be worse. As human beings we all have our days and nights. We have different seasonality – only in darkness I can see the light. 

In Chinese medicine, instead of four seasons we have five, which represent different energetic movements or emotions. Each season has its colour. In spring, it’s an uplifting aggress energy – the colour is green and the energetic movement is our anger. In the summertime, it’s joy and laughter. Summer’s passionate red represents opening and growing energy. Then, we have late summer. It’s our transformative and empathetic energy flow – knowing there’s me and there’s you, and empathetic connection in between – and I’m not alone. As the leaves fall in the autumn time, grieving and sadness come. It is the beautiful white in Chinese medicine, suggesting it’s time to withdraw and to step back. So, we are prepared for the shivering winter -– at this time we feel the life energy of fear and anxiety! And we can protect, rest and store our energy to ensure we are well reserved for the new cycle to begin. 

I don’t think I want to get rid of any colour or energetic expression of all these beautiful seasons. Instead, I choose to embrace the fullness of who I am and paint my life with all the colours offered by the universe. I can be in my strength and my weakness, I can accept both my yang and yin – without tagging them into good/bad or right/wrong. They are simply various expressions of life! 

Interestingly, every time when I choose to shift my external driven addictions towards my vulnerability, my fear, or my shame – and by sharing my full being with trustworthy friends – I find deeper connection with people. Often through their friendly eyes I experience my self-compassion. Seemingly, it’s easier to be compassionate with others than with ourselves. That’s why we do need each other’s support in our recovery and growth process. Most of all, underneath our fear and void there resides our potential for passion, creativity and life force, which is eager to express who you truly are. 

I encourage people who are willing to choose a wider path in the recovery process – please check the program I and Cathy Wilder are offering at The Haven: Transform Addictions: Widen your Path in Recovery, May 17–20. In this program we will offer you tools and ideas to build your inner strength and vulnerability and embrace the fullness of life. 

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