National Recovery Month: Reflect on Healthy Relationships and Living

Recovery Month Is a Time for Family Members to Invest in Their Own Health, Relationships, Purpose, and Community

Ellen Van Vechten

by Ellen Van Vechten

The theme for Recovery Month, September 2018, is to Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose, and Community. This theme is based on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) definition of recovery. SAMSHA defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential” in all aspects of their life: health, home, purpose, and community. The challenge to invest in our health and future applies to those of us who have been impacted by another’s addiction.

The first step of recovery for family members is the acceptance that we are “powerless” over another’s use of drugs or addictive behaviors and that our lives have become unmanageable. No amount of love for another person will cure his or her disease. No one can control another’s addictive behavior, and the attempt to do so wreaks havoc on the lives of those who try.

The process of recovery for family members mirrors that of recovery from active addiction. At the outset, all of us focus on the basics—finding support and coping strategies to get us through the immediate crises and return to equilibrium. Over time, as our recovery progresses, we start to work toward personal growth and the achievement of individual goals. A plan for recovery is self-designed and highly individual. It addresses personal needs and draws on individual strengths to foster healing, resilience, and personal growth.

The four major components of recovery as identified by SAMHSA (health, home, purpose, and community) provide a roadmap for family recovery. In the same way that our loved ones put together an individualized, holistic plan to support a new lifestyle and enhance their personal growth, those of us whose lives have been totally disrupted by another’s addiction may need to restructure our own lives to achieve our full potential. Our recovery plans, like theirs, should promote growth in all aspects of our lives.

First, we can take steps to support our physical and mental health and well-being. Second, we can broaden the SAMHSA definition of home as a need for safe and stable shelter, to a goal of stabilizing and strengthening our family and personal relationships. Third, we can focus on fostering our purpose, which, according to SAMHSA includes engagement in meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors. Having been consumed by another’s disease and, perhaps, neglected our work, plans, goals, or dreams, in recovery we have a chance to reexamine our mission and our purpose. Recovery provides an opportunity to redefine ourselves, try something new, or return to what we gave up. Finally, SAMHSA identifies the importance of finding and maintaining a supportive social network or community to support our own recovery. Recovery month thus offers us a time to focus on our own health, relationships, and purpose, and to foster a community of support as we strive for acceptance, serenity, personal growth, and the achievement of our full potential.

Based in part on her own family’s journey, Ellen Van Vechten explains the science of addiction, the theory of treatment, and the twelve-step model of recovery, providing sensible information and tips for reasoned action in support of a loved one while fostering personal growth and recovery.

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Every Kind of Addiction Is Addiction

Diane Cameron

By Diane Cameron

It’s September, and for kids its back to school and for many kids it’s a time to think about, “How do I want to be this year?” Study more, hang out with the good kids, do my homework first, maybe get those grades up now?

As adults we also have a kind of New Year’s thinking in September. Even if our recovery anniversary is later in the year, that habit of getting ready for back-to-school is ingrained in us. We too, can use this fall feeling to take stock, ask a few questions and consider changes we want to make.

In long-term recovery we are often looking at the next layer of our recovery. The good news and the bad news is that recovery never ends. One of the ways we keep growing is by paying attention to what might be impeding our growth, and for many of us it might be another addiction.

You have heard the jokes. Shopping addiction, chocolate addiction, TV, and shoes too. They are jokes, until they are not.

In Out of the Woods, I write about transferring addictions and about the “soft addictions” and “process addictions”: TV, Internet, shopping and even work and worry. We come to understand that addiction really is inside the person and not in the substance. We also learn that while it’s true that shopping may not kill us, and we joke about being addicted to the games on our phone, we also know that avoiding our feelings is an early sign that we are sliding.

This is why I need ongoing discernment with other people in recovery: the process addictions are often things that have very good qualities. Think about exercise. We get in shape, we get a good habit of running or going to the gym, but what happens when we miss a day or can’t work out? Are we in a bad mood? Are we afraid? I’ve been there with exercise.

Similarly with shopping: Who doesn’t want to look nice? But do we obsess? Spend money we don’t have? Wander the mall or online stores in a trance? I’ve done that.

That old joke is early recovery turns out to be true: “The only thing you have to change is everything.”

Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst and teacher said, “The natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction.

The blessing of a long recovery is that we do have time, and we have a community of peers who cheer for us, as we cheer for them, as we take on that next step in our growth.

In Out of the Woods, I included a chapter on “Other Addictions” that many of us in long-term recovery will encounter. We have a choice to keep on growing.

Diane Cameron’s book, Out of the Woods is a guide for women new to recovery. With time, recovering women face challenges and Cameron shares her experiences in hopes to teach readers how to handle the unexpected trials of double-digit recovery.

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Do These 7 Things Before Ending Therapeutic Separation

Vicki Tidwell Palmer

By: Vicki Tidwell Palmer

In my article, 7 Key Components of a “Therapeutic” Separation Agreement, I covered the key elements that should be included in any therapeutic separation agreement.

The 7 components are:

  1. Length of separation
  2. Who will leave the home
  3. Access to the home
  4. Communication
  5. Household/childcare matters
  6. Goals for reintegration
  7. Post-reintegration agreements

While each of these is vital for an effective and productive therapeutic separation, #7 is often the most crucial because:

One of the biggest mistakes couples make when ending a period of separation is having no agreements about what will happen going forward. It is not uncommon for the unfaithful spouse to return to the family home and within a few months to have significantly reduced his engagement in recovery activities—or worse—abandoned them altogether.

This article covers the 7 most important actions I recommend each betrayed partner—and couple—take before ending a therapeutic separation period and reintegrating.

1. Review original agreements

If you created a therapeutic separation agreement when you initially separated, review the agreements to determine whether any milestones requested or agreed upon have been accomplished. If they haven’t, either wait until they are completed or carefully consider whether you want to alter your initial request or agreement.

The only time you may want to discuss reintegration prior to all agreements or milestones being met is when there are circumstances outside your spouses’ control that prevent him or her from being able to meet the commitment. An example would be not having an opportunity to attend a workshop or intensive because it is not being offered in a time frame that fits within the separation.

2. Identify requests for post-integration

Once you’re clear that all requests or milestones from the initial therapeutic separation agreement have been met, determine any ongoing trust-building actions or behaviors you would like after the separation ends.

Your list may include recovery work, individual therapy, couples therapy, after-care polygraphs, attendance at 12-step meetings, and any other trust-building or relationship restoring actions you would like. On a practical level, include what you would like in terms of sleeping arrangements, childcare considerations, attendance at social or family events, or other items covered in your original separation agreement.

3. Make a requests list

Post-integration agreements are best created through a request-making process.

Once you have identified specific post-integration requests, write them down and include as much detail as possible. For example, asking your spouse to “go to therapy” will probably not get you the results you want unless you only wanted him to go to one therapy session, and he did.

Effective requests should include timelines. If attendance at 12-step meetings helps rebuild trust for you, ask for a specific number of meetings per week, or month, and include a time frame. For example, “I would like you to go to two 12-step meetings per week for the next year.”

You can be even even more specific and identify the type of meeting you want your spouse to go to. Some people who struggle with out of control sexual behavior, and are already working an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, prefer to attend AA meetings and avoid “S” recovery groups. They go where they feel more comfortable, or where they don’t have to address deeper issues.

If this level of detail, including timelines, sounds too harsh or rigid, ask yourself how you will feel in 2-3 months post-integration when your spouse is back in your home and has stopped taking meaningful action toward becoming healthier and restoring trust in your relationship. Sadly, this scenario is more common than not.

For each item you identified in #2, create a request that is clear, specific, actionable and has a time frame. For most recovery activities, I recommend they continue for no less than one year post-integration. For more information about how to make effective requests, read my article Requests, Demands & Ultimatums, or Chapter 7 in Moving Beyond Betrayal.

4. Be 100% clear

Deciding when and whether to live with another person is an example of a physical boundary. Physical boundaries are non-negotiable personal boundaries, which means you do not need the agreement of anyone to decide if, when, or how you want to live with another person.

Before having a conversation with your spouse to discuss your requests list for post-integration, make sure that you are 100% clear you are ready. Reflect on your spouse’s ability to listen, to be empathic, avoid defensiveness, and to be accountable. Review the requests you want to make and ask yourself, “Am I truly ready to end this separation? If my spouse agrees—or doesn’t—to most or all my requests would I feel differently?”

Unfortunately, betrayed partners are sometimes pressured by their spouse, their therapist, a clergy member, or even their own family members to forgive, forget, and let the unfaithful spouse return home. However, I encourage you to take your time. It is far better to wait until you are absolutely clear and ready, than to make a decision that is not completely yours.

5. Have the conversation

If you’re clear that you’re ready to proceed, have a beginning conversation with your spouse so that you can present your post-integration requests. Ideally, this meeting should take place in a therapist’s office.

Your spouse may not agree to all your requests. He may say no, or he may want to negotiate an alternative agreement to one or more items you propose. If his or her attempt at negotiation is in good faith, keep an open mind and compromise where you can. If you have any hesitation at all—which you can often sense as physical responses in your body—either delay entering into an agreement or simply say that it’s not workable for you. The best approach is to avoid making any agreement you’re not comfortable with.

6. Enter post-integration agreements in an agreement journal

Once you have a list of agreements, write them down in an agreement journal, sign and date them for clarity and for future reference.

7. Reintegrate in stages

Reintegrating is best done in stages. Couples often benefit from starting reintegration by spending one or two nights under the same roof, adding weekends, and then increasing to full reintegration over a period of weeks, or even months, depending on the couple, the length of their therapeutic separation, and their particular situation.

Although sexual reintegration is a more complex and detailed topic to be covered in this article, sexual reintegration in stages is also recommended. Whether you’re reintegrating living arrangements or sexually, the best course of action is to take your time and pay attention to your thoughts, physical responses, emotions, and intuition.

Vicki Tidwell Palmer is the author of the bestselling MOVING BEYOND BETRAYAL. Available now


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Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Record High

Drug Overdoses up 7 Percent: Why This Is a Nationwide Issue

Mel Pohl, MD, DFASAM

by Mel Pohl, MD, DFASAM

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, up about 7 percent from 2016.

This is alarming information, as state legislatures have passed numerous laws to compel prescribers to limit numbers and dosages of opioid pain medications. So far, as these statistics show, we are not seeing the effects, which will presumably show up in the next year or two.

The report estimates that prescription painkillers and other illicit drugs contributed nearly 68 percent of the total overdose deaths; that’s about 49,000 deaths.

Although these numbers are high, they could be even higher. Many deaths haven’t been reported as related to an overdose due to the way data is collected.

Though the number of overdoses has risen across the country, each state is affected differently. The CDC says the West Coast is not seeing the same increase in overdoses involving synthetic drugs as the rest of the nation.

In states like Oregon, Nevada, and Washington, overdoses related to psychostimulants like methamphetamine are more common.

Nevada’s methamphetamine death rate is the highest in the nation. In Nevada alone, there were over 700 predicted drug overdose related deaths in 2017.

Since opioids are becoming harder to obtain with newly passed regulations, some individuals are seeking other intoxicating substances, which are leading to overdoses. And unfortunately, fentanyl is also being added to other substances like methamphetamine, illicit Xanax, and marijuana.

In an effort to tackle Nevada’s overdoses and in response to the opioid crisis, the state has created tighter restrictions on prescriptions, is threatening lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, and is more closely tracking opioid distribution.

Also of concern are high numbers of opioid pills prescribed acute short-term painful conditions, such as sprains or bruises. Limiting the number of pills is part of the intervention program suggested by the CDC. Each of us, if and when we find ourselves as patients, can refuse to accept prescriptions from a doctor or dentist for large quantities of opioids, insisting on a few pills, which will be all that is necessary for most acute painful conditions.

A Day without Pain reviews the physical and psychological problems associated with pain, as well as ways to assess and treat pain.

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In Sickness and Poor Health

Diane Cameron

By: Diane Cameron

The old joke goes like this:

Question: “How do you get to be an old-timer?”

Answer: “You don’t drink, and you don’t die.”

But we are human beings and the sad truth is that while we may not drink again, we will—over time—have some serious illnesses and die. So, in a sad but funny way, the farther we are from our last drink the closer we are to, well, sickness and death.

So, how do we deal with those things in recovery? How do we manage health problems and illnesses and the chronic conditions that come with aging? There is nothing shiny and sparkly about that part of long sobriety, but there can be some powerful spiritual growth in those days, and when illness hits we get some truly concrete measures of just how recovered we are.

One of the reasons I keep going to meetings is a selfish one. Over these thirty-plus years, I have heard so many stories and seen so many people deal with really difficult things and NOT drink or use over them. That’s a daily reminder that the regular stuff of daily life is no reason to drink, but it also tells me to stay in shape spiritually and emotionally because I want to go through those hard things without using when it is my turn.

The difficult things that we see folks go through are the illnesses of children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. We see our sober colleagues in Twelve-Step rooms deal with cancer, heart disease, and dementia. We see our recovery comrades deal with injuries and illnesses that improve, and also with disabilities that worsen over time. In long-term recovery we do see our recovering friends confront and deal with death—the deaths of the people they love, and also, finally, their own death. That, I think, is recovery of the highest order.

I’ve always been a worrier, so I have to balance this idea of preparation with the real fact that we can never be prepared. As a kid in troubled family, I developed the “What if?” habit. It was a strange kind of comfort, I suppose. As a powerless child it gave me a measure of control, when I mentally rehearsed the bad things that might happen. It didn’t quite work then and it doesn’t now, but somehow that hypothetical thinking persists.

But maybe now as a sober woman, I can make it work for me in a different kind of way. Maybe now, I can keep my recovery a priority so that recovery and recovery thinking will be at the center of my life when those inevitable challenges come.

I can prepare my mind, heart, and spirit to be as sound and open a possible so that when illness or death show up, I can face it as a recovering and loving woman.

Diane Cameron’s book, Out of the Woods is a guide for women new to recovery. With time, recovering women face challenges and Cameron shares her experiences in hopes to teach readers how to handle the unexpected trials of double-digit recovery.

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Stories Allow Us to Endure

Dr. Charles Garfield

By: Charles Garfield

Years ago, at the Cancer Research Institute, I cared for a retired high school teacher who loved to tell me about the students he was proudest of, kids who made something of their lives and attributed some or much of their success to the lessons they learned in his English literature class. He had saved their letters, in which they described their successes, and they let him know that he had been there at “just the right time” to guide them.

Their stories were part of his story, and he talked proudly about how much he’d loved these kids and tried to bring literature to life for them. He’d made it a point to recommend short stories, plays, and novels that had messages that would illuminate the issues in their lives, and he kept in touch with them after graduation, meeting with them to discuss their transitions and challenges.

To the end, he was the amiable professor—it was the identity that defined him and made him most proud. I remember our bedside “seminars,” in which he’d slide into his expansive knowledge of human nature and literature and hold court. When I mentioned that I was struggling in my first marriage, he recommended that I read Tristan and Isolde and sent me to look again at Romeo and Juliet. That, he said, was the best way to think about love.

Our exchanges were warm but never very emotional. Yet, they glimmer in my memory when I think of him and bring him vividly to life. For dying people, that’s one of the greatest hopes—that they’ll endure inside us. The promise we can make is that we’ll put our hearts into listening to the stories of who they were and remember them.

After four decades of training volunteers to sit at the bedsides of the dying, psychologist and The Shanti Project founder Charles Garfield created an essential guide, Life’s Last Gift for friends and families who want to offer comfort and ease their loved ones’ final days.

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So, You Turned It Over. Now What?

Diane Cameron

By: Diane Cameron

We learn about surrender early in recovery. It takes a long time to really get it, and maybe even longer to really mean it. But then, after several trials and some successes, we are willing.

“Ok” we say, “I’ll turn over this job/relationship/person.” “I’m willing to let go and let God.”

WE spend a lot of time asking our sponsor exactly how to do that and mostly we find that creating some kind of ritual helps a lot: we add a note to the God Box, or e light a candle, maybe we write down our desire and then we burn that paper as a gesture of true surrender.

But then what? What happens after we turn something over?

Most of us get stuck at that point. The impatience kicks in because we don’t know what to do. How—exactly—will we know if a Higher Power is answering our call for guidance?

What we need are some tools for discernment.

One friend asks, “Should she change jobs?” Another one thinks about changing her whole career. A friend from meeting debates, “Should she buy a house or continue to rent?” Someone else talks about graduate school versus yoga teacher training.

“A choice between goods” is one definition of discernment. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, but a choice between goods.

But how do you “do” discernment?

Years ago, my spiritual director gave me this list of tools for discernment:



Sitting still

Asking God


Get quiet and listen for the subtle

Think and feel


Then use your gut, your courage and your integrity.

Another good discernment practice, and this one takes a little time which is helpful as most of us are impatient. It goes like this:

Fully describes Option A to yourself (preferable in writing): the graduate program, the classes, location, books, homework, money, and benefits, people. Declare (to yourself) that this is the choice you have made. Then live as if that is the final choice—that and only that for two weeks. Pretend to yourself it’s a done deal and go about your life as if that is true. No mental debate for those two weeks. But during that time pay attention to your body, energy, heart and head.

After two full weeks of living option A, then again, again fully commit yourself, but now to option B. Again, make full mental and emotional commitment—for two whole weeks. Now what do you notice or sense in your body, mind, heart, and energy? Write about what you see and sense. What messages do you get?

In addition, you’ll want to talk to people who have chosen either options –or similar ones—and then pray/ask for a sign.

Discernment may sound like a slightly religious word, and that’s because almost every faith tradition has practices to help us make life decisions. Confusion and related decision-making are two huge helpings of being human, so faith traditions offer guidance.

In our Twelve-step programs we have maybe even a little more confusion—we are still learning to trust our Higher Power, and ourselves and we’ve faced down some past decisions we’re not happy about, so we may be a bit wary.

So, when we make a surrender—and we do this over and over in our recovery years—we also need to practice the tools of discernment as a practical and tangible way to both wait on and see our Higher Power in action.

Diane Cameron’s book, Out of the Woods is a guide for women new to recovery. With time, recovering women face challenges and Cameron shares her experiences in hopes to teach readers how to handle the unexpected trials of double-digit recovery.

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You Can Empathize Even If You Don’t Agree

By: Charles Garfield

Charles Garfield

Your loved one may surprise or puzzle you with the way he or she looks at death—and that may pose a particular sort of challenge to your empathy. Many of us on the cancer ward didn’t know what to make of a remarkable young woman named Greta with an unusually sunny disposition. Greta was Swedish and had met her new husband while visiting relatives in the U.S. She married him, had a baby soon after—and then had been diagnosed with advanced lymphoma. It was a terrible blow for a twenty-two-year-old mother with a nine-month-old son, yet she was unfailingly positive. Insisting that she was in God’s hands, and He would take care of everything, she asked me if she could visit other patients “to help them with their troubles.”

The nurses were suspicious. “We’re not sure what’s going on, emotionally,” one of them told me. “She’s always ‘just fine.’ Come on—there’s got to be something.”

But the more time I spent with Greta, the more I could see that her belief and trust were genuine. Still, it was hard for me to understand that at first. We were very different people, of very different beliefs and dispositions, just as you and your loved one may be. “I walk and talk with God each day, and I know that no matter what happens, I’ll be okay,” she’d say, with a kind of grace that was far removed from the fears I knew I’d likely have if I were in her shoes. Where did she get that kind of faith? I knew I wanted to learn about that from her, and as I became curious about her, my subtle judgments about how she must be naïve or pretending fell away.

Yet I continued to share the nurses’ concern, though she didn’t talk about any anxieties, she must harbor some about what she was leaving behind. So I mentioned that to Greta, and asked if we could talk with the medical staff so they wouldn’t worry about her. At the meeting, she reiterated her faith to us with a smile, but as she went on, clouds began to emerge. “The only thing I worry about is my baby,” she said quietly. “Who will take care of little Tommy?” She regarded us for a long, silent moment. “Then there’s my husband. Why is he afraid to come up here?” Her voice suddenly broke. “Why can’t he find strength to spend time with me?”

She began to cry, her sobs filling the room.

With Greta’s permission, I called her husband, Rick, and arranged to meet him at a restaurant near the hospital. He’d been staying away, he told me, because he just didn’t know what to do or how to be with Greta in the hospital. Once I walked him through the door to her room, though, and he sat near her bed, Greta reached for his hand, eyes shining. Soon their heads were close, and they were whispering endearments like the newlyweds they were.

As empathy helps you see what needs to be done, and you check your perception with the person in the bed, you may find yourself extending your compassion, empathy and support to another family member or friend whose presence your loved one sorely needs, perhaps inviting a visit. You can’t dictate the outcome, but you may wind up giving your loved one a longed-for gift. Greta’s condition improved dramatically after Rick began to visit her, and her cancer went into remission for a time, allowing her to go home to Rick and the baby. Those months, in which she could share her love for them and plan for Tommy’s future, filled her with peace.

We brace ourselves for the worst as our loved ones are dying, but be prepared, as well, for unexpected, inexplicable grace. When you encounter belief like Greta’s, greet it with empathy, even if it differs profoundly from your own. The gifts of the dying time sometimes come in the form of understanding, for the first time, the sources of another person’s character and courage.


After four decades of training volunteers to sit at the bedsides of the dying, psychologist and The Shanti Project founder Charles Garfield created an essential guide, Life’s Last Gift for friends and families who want to offer comfort and ease their loved ones’ final days.

Note from Author:

“I’ve been asked many times in conversations and interviews to summarize my book, Life’s Last Gift: Giving and Receiving Peace When a Loved One Is Dying, in a few words. It occurred to me that the book shows all of us how love heals and that real caring is love made visible. This is true whether we’re caring for someone at the end of life or during any life challenge.”

— Charles Garfield.

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What We Pass on to Our Kids

Resmaa Menakem

By: Resmaa Menakem

When my brothers and I were little, we spent a lot of time at our grandmother’s house. She was always happy to have us, but sometimes, when we got into serious trouble, she would whup us. She used a switch braided from the branches of a willow tree that grew in her backyard. She kept that switch behind a portrait of her and my grandpapa, painted many years earlier, that hung in her living room.

My brothers and I were normal boys, so we probably did what adults expected of us about half the time. The rest of the time we did whatever we pleased. Sometimes my grandmother would get upset with us. Her most common complaint went like this: “What did I just tell you? Y’all don’t listen at all. You boys don’t realize you’re eatin’ fat till your faces are covered in grease.”

Like most young boys, we’d listen politely while she chewed us out. We’d be obedient for the next fifteen minutes. Then we’d go back to doing whatever we wanted.

About once a year, though, we did something that seriously upset her. When that happened, she wouldn’t even bother chewing us out. She’d just say, “That’s it” and head toward the portrait in the living room. When she wanted to, that woman could move fast.

My brothers and I would freeze in terror. We knew what was coming next.

If you’ve never been whupped with a willow switch, let me tell you this: It’s something you want to avoid. When the switch strikes you, it wraps around your arm or leg. It doesn’t usually break the skin, but it leaves welts that last—and sting—for a couple of days.

On at least two occasions, my grandmother was so upset at us that she made us go into the backyard, cut branches off the willow tree, and bring them to her. Then, as we watched in dread, she braided a new switch right before our eyes.

My grandmother grew up in a sharecropping family in Round Lake, Mississippi. Her grandparents spent much of their lives on a plantation. You don’t need a degree in psychology to recognize my grandmother’s whupping us with a switch as what psychologists call a traumatic retention—a trauma-related behavior that gets passed down through the generations until it loses its original context and begins to look like culture.

The term whupping is a slightly sanitized version of whipping, which for centuries was a standard practice in America. (Today, the apparatus used to inflict pain has also been somewhat sanitized, from a whip to a switch.) Overseers on plantations routinely whipped Black bodies to punish and control them. This was typically done in front of other Black people on the plantation, in order to terrorize them.

But there was another aspect to my grandmother’s whuppings. She never got any pleasure out of whupping us. In fact, sometimes when she did it, there were tears in eyes. Always, after she had hit each of us a few times and put the switch away, my brothers and I would sit on her living room floor, sobbing. She would sit down with us and tell us, “What did I tell you boys? Y’all got to listen when I tell you somethin’s dangerous. If I tell you to stay away from somethin’, you need to stay away from it. I don’t want y’all gettin’ hurt. You understand?”

My grandmother never whupped us because she was angry or just because we had been disobedient. If we broke a vase or a window, she’d give us a talking to or, at worst, deny us peach cobbler at supper. She only whupped us when she felt we had put ourselves in danger, either physically or socially.

Afterward, she would always explain why she whupped us and why we needed to be more careful. This gave us context, safety, and security; it helped us process what had happened; and it helped instill more resilience in our bodies. She whupped us in an attempt to protect us from what she knew could easily harm the young Black bodies in front of her. Her whuppings may have been misguided, but they were well intentioned—done out of her love for us.

As a father and a therapist, I can’t condone any of my grandmother’s whuppings —or anyone whupping their kids. Yet, I understand why she whupped us. I also recognize that what she did was a partial mending of her own trauma. And because of her loving explanations afterward, something deeply healing occurred: she did not pass on her traumatic retentions to any of us.

I’ve never whupped my son, Tezara, who is now seventeen. There have been times when I’ve had to hold him close to me, press my face up close to his, and announce, “You . . . are . . . going . . . to . . . have . . . to . . . get . . . your . . . shit . . . together.”

The times when I’ve gotten most upset at Tezara—and the moments when I’ve most had to override the temptation to whup him—have usually been when he was about to put himself in danger.

Long ago, I stopped worrying about him running out into the street without looking both ways or poking his eye out with a bow and arrow. But I do still worry that he will get hurt—mostly at the hands of police and strangers.

Tezara is a normal teenager. He wants as much freedom as possible, and he simply doesn’t understand the dangers that await him out in the world. This is the unsettling and unavoidable paradox of creating a loving home: parents raise kids whose bodies are unprepared to protect themselves from all the evils they will eventually face. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had some version of the following dialogue with my son:

Tezara: “Daddy, why can’t I? You’re just being mean. Hayden’s parents are letting him do it.”

Me: “I’m not being mean. I’m trying to protect you.”

Tezara: “Hayden’s parents don’t think he’ll be in any danger.”

Me: “I don’t think your friend Hayden will be in any danger, either.”

Tezara: “So, why can’t I go with him?”

Me (sighing): “Because Hayden has a white body and you have a Black one. You’re subject to dangers that he isn’t. That’s just how it is. I’m your daddy, and part of my job is to keep you from getting hurt or killed. That’s why my answer is no.”

Tezara: “Oh, come on, Daddy. Who would want to kill me?”

This is when I often blink back tears and think of Tamir Rice and Emmett Till. I want to tell my son, “Tezara, the list of people who want to kill you is long.”

Of course I don’t. I usually just say, “This conversation is over” and leave the room.

Resmaa Menakem is a therapist, licensed social worker, and police trainer and consultant who specializes in trauma work, addressing conflict, and body-centered healing. His most recent book is My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.

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The Paradox of Pain in Long-term Recovery

Diane Cameron

By: Diane Cameron

You start to hear about the paradoxes of recovery early on: “It’s a selfish program where we learn to think about others.” And “You have to give it away to keep it.” These may just be early signals that ours is a spiritual program and that we are going to be kept on our toes.

There is a particular paradox though that comes as we enter long-term recovery—at about the ten-year mark. That paradox is about pain.

As we mature in recovery there is much less pain. Yes, we still face all the things that every human being does: hurt, loss and disappointment. But truly, we suffer less because we have this amazing toolkit and a bunch of great recovery habits.

But, we know –and remember –that it was pain and crisis that kept us regulars at our twelve-step meetings in the beginning and through our early years. It was daily pain and daily “learning to live from scratch” lessons that kept us “coming back”, and which ensured daily contact with sponsors and other program folks.

So, after ten years many folks in recovery may start to ask, what does it mean now, when life really is getting better, that we seem to drift away from the program?

It’s confusing to others too. What we hear at meetings is, “Where are the people with more than ten years?” The truth is that they are out living their lives. Very often people who have remained sober for a long time have added PTA, Rotary, cycling and skiing or a second family to the lives that were once well filled with four meetings a week, being the coffee-maker and sponsorship.

No, we don’t want to drift away for good, but it is also a blessing that we have strength and skills to be part of a greater community. But there can be some sadness too. The rewards of recovery do kick in after ten years, but those very rewards (friends, jobs, families, school) take us away from the people and practices that made our great recovery in early years. So, what’s a sober woman to do?

In my book, “Out of the Woods” I go into specific detail about how women—and men–in long-term recovery can have a good life that includes ongoing recovery and full participation in the greater community as well. I cover the big questions like: What does service mean after 20 years? And is moving to a new city after 15 years a geographic change or a milestone of good recovery? And, of course, because one of the greatest gifts of long recovery is a new sense of humor, I also write about “lighter” topics as well, like: Learning to dance as a tool of recovery, and how sometimes a new haircut is as important is a new slogan.

Diane Cameron’s book, Out of the Woods is a guide for women new to recovery. With time, recovering women face challenges and Cameron shares her experiences in hopes to teach readers how to handle the unexpected trials of double-digit recovery.

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