S02E02 - Surrounded by help
For most of my life I’ve been afraid to ask for help, because asking for help meant getting hurt. And as a kid I thought I was supposed to avoid getting hurt.
When you’re a child you are forced to trust those in your family, community, and culture to provide for your basic physiological needs. Needs like air, water, food, and shelter. You’re also forced to look to these same individuals to provide for your safety, things like personal security, emotional security, financial security, and general wellbeing.
Who else learned of Maslow and his hierarchy of human needs? If we follow Maslow’s ‘theory of human motivation’ and climb his hierarchy of needs, up the pyramid, we build upon these most basic human needs to find belonging and love, esteem, cognitive needs like creativity, curiosity, and meaning, aesthetic needs like beauty in nature, self-actualization, until we reach the top of the pyramid and start exploring transcendent needs like spirituality.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Much of our current view of developmental psychology is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s theory describes the pattern through which human motivation works and grows across a lifetime. According to Maslow an individual must satisfy or ‘achieve’ each stage within themselves, before they move up the pyramid towards self-actualization and spirituality. If you speak to doctors, sociologists, psychologists, scientists, and even pastors they will affirm Maslow’s theory and talk about the importance of helping individuals develop and grow through each of the stages. Maslow’s theory works and makes sense for most people. But his ‘theory’ wasn’t enough for me and isn’t enough for me and for many other 2SLGBTQ+ or BIPOC humans around the world.
Maslow’s theory was formed based on a couple of giant caveats that are rarely talked about. Maslow states very clearly that individuals should follow their own inner guide and not be swayed by external opinions or experiences. His theory also assumes that individuals start life and are viewed as a valid human beings, with a right to live, grow, thrive, and love. Neither of these caveats were true for me.
The BIG BUT
Growing up in the church I received my basic physiological needs, my general safety needs were met, and I guess you can say that love and social belonging needs were met too. But there was a big caveat that I discovered along the way. All these needs would be met IF I fit into the manmade definition of what the church considered valid.
According to Dr. Maslow, those who would climb to the top of his hierarchy of needs were superior performers who had strong values and qualities in their personalities that they considered to be worthwhile and important. He went further to share that an individual’s values cannot be imposed by church, society, parents, or any other externals. In order to become self-actualized an individual must choose and define their own set of values and make their own decisions.
Asking for help at work
One of the spaces where I needed lots of help was at work. I was going through an incredibly challenging time with a member of my team and had escalated this situation to my boss on a number of occasions. He repeatedly brushed off the situation and didn’t want to get involved in anything that involved any type of conflict.
After a major blow up, I started to work with an executive coach I started to share some of my challenges at work. I shared that I was angry, frustrated, and running on fumes. During our sessions he listened, asked powerful questions, and helped me to start a journey inward. He helped me to start valuing my time, energy, and overall contribution. After our first session together, he walked over to his bookshelf, grabbed a book, and handed it to me. As I read the title ‘The Asshole Survival Guide – How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt’ he smiled and shared that this book would address much of what was going on at the office. He was bang on, and not only for the challenges I was experiencing at work.
In asking this coach for help, I learned how to value myself more. I learned how to continue to perform with excellence while also understanding that it’s okay to move beyond those who don’t appreciate you and to use that new space to invest in what I need most.
Permission to care more about yourself
His advice may sound simple, but to me, it was ground breaking. In essence I was given permission to care less about others and to care more about myself. This was counter to everything I had been taught growing up in the church. At church I was taught to respect and honour authority, fulfill all of my commitments, to be a good and faithful servant, and the gifts that we receive when we put other’s needs ahead of my own.
Up until this point, I was proud of being a servant leader and good corporate citizen. I trusted my leaders and fought for my team members. Looking back now I can see how this approach helped me to perform but without proper boundaries and self-respect I was investing all of myself into others and that opened me up to disrespect, chaos, and abuse.
Asking for help outside of the office
During this period of my life, I also needed lots of help outside of the office. I didn’t realize it at the time, but much of the chaos I was experiencing at the office was driving my addictive behaviour beyond the office walls and into the rest of my life.
Working with my coach helped me reprioritize work and allowed me to find some space from the office drama. Over our sessions together he asked two more powerful questions.
What do you need right now?
How can you give that to yourself?
For years, I had been using several addictions to run from and numb the pain of feeling unlovable, unworthy, and from feeling broken.
What I needed right now was to focus on my overall mental health and to stop self-medicating to escape the pain.
After years of the internet to escape my pain and to find more sex, drugs, alcohol, and distraction, I went online and did a search for the opposite. I opened my laptop browser and typed in ‘addiction recovery’. I was blown away to discover that I was surrounded by a myriad of recovery groups, programs, resources, and friends.
Reaching out VS running
As I quickly fell down this new online rabbit hole my curiosity led me on a new type of Internet escape. Instead of numbing the pain I was feeling I started to discover others who were talking about similar pain and how they were facing it. As I read their stories my mind started to focus on personal friends who had been on similar journeys themselves. Instead of viewing these friends as social pariahs and people to avoid I felt a new desire to reach out and connect.
I took a chance and quickly typed out a text to a friend who had dropped out of the scene a few years earlier and asked if he would meet me for dinner. He did, and our conversation helped to form the foundation for my personal recovery plan.
Over dinner I shared with him about the mess that was going on in my life. He was kind, generous, and supportive with his listening but the more that I shared with him the larger the smirk on his face grew.
‘What are you laughing about?’ I asked
‘I can’t believe that you’re sitting here telling me all of this. I judged myself so harshly because of who I thought you were. I was always so ashamed to be around you because I didn’t want to be compared against your perfect life. The job, the travel, the homes, the boyfriends… I never considered that all of that could be an illusion.’
We both looked at each other and laughed and I responded with a simple but glib
‘Guess I fooled you, and myself’.
With that exchange out of the way he started to share some of his own recovery process from the previous two years and he invited me to attend a ‘local GayA’ where I would have the opportunity to connect and meet with many others who had started their own recovery journeys.
In those first few months I tried out dozens of different AA, SLAA, SAA, and NA meetings all over the city. Day after day I was surprised by how much help existed within a 5KM radius of where I lived.
These rooms saved my life and were the pattern interrupt that my body and soul needed for healing. Before being introduced to the rooms I used food, sex, work, drugs, and alcohol to fill the void of being disembodied. Instead of feeling lost and alone, these rooms provided me with a new type of community and became a place I could escape back into my body, listen to what I knew I needed to heal, and start to deconstruct many of the decades old lies that I had been taught about my sinful and broken nature.
Gradually after trying out many, many different groups I started to find groups where I felt at home and where I could connect with others that I felt comfortable opening up to.
God’s sense of humor
Looking back, I am thankful for so many individuals in those rooms. One night comes to mind that proved to me that God really does have a twisted sense of humor.
It was a Tuesday night Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous group that is regularly held in the basement of a Catholic Church. That particular week, the church needed to use their basement for an event but asked if we would be comfortable moving our meeting up into the main sanctuary. There we were, 15 people in recovery for sex and love addiction, sharing stories of strength and hope in a place that was traditionally used to oppress, control, and shame women and 2SLGBTQ+ individuals. The space that was used to harm so many of us was now being used as part of our healing and recovery.
My share that night was the observation that God will find a way to circumvent the manmade lies used in God’s name and deliver a message of inclusive love and path towards healing for every single human made in God’s image.
Asking for a sponsor
After several months sitting in those rooms, I felt ready, and I gathered up the courage to ask someone if they would be my sponsor to help walk me through the Twelve Steps. After group, I walked up to an individual and while stacking up chairs I asked if he would be my sponsor. He looked me up and down and said,
‘No, you’re too new. I don’t think you’re serious and I don’t want to waste my time.’
Initially I felt gutted but the honesty in his words gave me the strength to push forward and share why I thought I wasn’t going to be a waste of his time (or of my own).
Eventually he agreed to have dinner before a meeting to hear more about my personal story and to hammer me with dozens of blunt questions about my past, other recovery tools I was using, and why recovery was a must for my life.
After I answered his questions, he explained (verbally and in writing) that his approach to being a sponsor wasn’t about being a friend, an accountability partner, or a therapist. For him a sponsor was strictly about walking someone through the 12 steps of recovery.
Before we left dinner, he also gave me two more hoops to jump through before he would consider taking me on as his sponsee. First, I needed to formally write out my personal plan for and commitments for my recovery. Second, I needed to reach out and start working with a therapist who specifically focuses on trauma.
His approach pissed me off.
Who the heck does this guy think he is? What does he know? I already have a therapist. I’ve already shared my plan for recovery. This is garbage and this guy is full of himself.
What I would discover in the weeks ahead is that this was the exact type of help that I needed.
Hard coded to belong and protect
- The abused partner that stays because they believe they are responsible for being abused and that if they speak up it would destroy the relationship.
- The church members that have first hand knowledge of abuse but don’t speak up because they believe that speaking up would destroy all the good that the church does.
- The corporate director that doesn’t speak of financial crimes or management harassment because they fear that by sharing the truth would destroy the entire company and would harm their friends and colleagues.
- The child that doesn’t speak of parental abuse because they believe that speaking up would destroy the family they depend on.
Trauma sufferers, in their healing journeys, learn to dissolve their rigid defenses. In this surrender they move from frozen fixity to gently thawing and, finally, free flow. In healing the divided self from its habitual mode of dissociation, they move from fragmentation to wholeness. In becoming embodied they return from their long exile. They come home to their bodies and know embodied life, as though for the first time. While trauma is hell on earth, its resolution may be a gift from the gods.