Lately, I have been thinking a lot about growth, and how it is that some people grow rather quickly, while others, even after decades of adulthood, don’t seem to grow much at all? The growth I am talking about isn’t physical, it’s mental and more-so related to maturity.
The obvious thing that sets those who grow and those who stay where they are apart, is a willingness to grow. When I look back on my life, it would have been very easy for me to stay in the mess I was in, to repeat the cycle of addiction and abuse. Often times, when I tell someone about my childhood, they look at me and say, “How is that part of who you are? I never would have known if you hadn’t told me.”
Sometimes it doesn’t feel real to me either because I am in such a good place in my life, surrounded by a lot of love and encouragement with my family, friends, and colleagues. But a conversation I had about my past this last week really challenged me to think about how I overcame a painful past. How did I become lucky enough to grow past my traumatic childhood?
Was it my continued faith in God? That because I had a personal relationship with my higher power, it gave me the strength I needed to cling to hope that this could all be better some day? Maybe.
Then I thought about when I really started to grow…it was when I went through a painful process of searching within and came to terms with my shortcomings. That was when I joined an Al-Anon group in my town, thanks to a dear second cousin and his wife for encouraging me to find a meeting to attend. Al-Anon is a 12-step recovery program for friends and families of alcoholics. I joined because someone I love was in the midst of addictions, and although I had tried so hard to control it, I couldn’t. I felt powerless and hopeless. I thought that attending an Al-Anon meeting would help to give me the tools I needed to help my loved one. The joke was on me when I showed up and quickly learned that the program was for me to help me.
You see, when someone is addicted to something, the people who are trying to care for that person are often the ones who become more sick than the alcoholic/drug addict/etc. I didn’t realize that I had a part in all of it, and actually, I had to take a step back when I heard that because I was like: “Me? What did I do wrong? How come I have to work on all of this? The addiction wasn’t MY choice?”
I didn’t cause it.
I can’t control it.
I can’t cure it.
Although I didn’t cause the addiction, I had to take responsibility over my life. By that point, I had blamed so much of what had happened in my life on other people. I had been hurt, and I was a victim.
One of the most transformational experiences in Al-Anon was when I did the 4th step inventory: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This is where I came face-to-face with my character defects. I learned how I had grown up in a chaotic living environment and how it affected my personality.
For instance, I had become someone who always needed to be in control. I was a control freak in my past and current relationships, and often times it made me difficult to love. I would throw a fit if things didn’t go my way or if I didn’t know 100% that someone was telling me the truth. It was a HUGE struggle for me, and I learned I became someone who needed control because everything in my life growing up was outside my control. I knew I had to make a decision to change. Taking that 4th step inventory was the beginning of change in my life. It led me to grow.
Up until that point, I had done a great job of pointing blame at others, even myself. I would sit and blame people for all the hurt they had caused me, but that wasn’t productive. It wasn’t until I started to take accountability for things, which was a difficult process, that I started to grow.
I think that’s what it is. Those who grow, are willing to take accountability. They can see that they have played a role in a situation, and it may not have been a good one. They decide to take action and change their behavior. Those who stay put in their mental growth? They like to blame. They blame others for their pain. They maybe blame themselves. Someone is at fault. Either way, they refuse to take accountability and admit when they are wrong.
One of my favorite researchers, Brene Brown, talks about blame in this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZWf2_2L2v8.
“Blame is simply the discharge of comfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability.”
That’s it! That is what helps me to understand growth. In addition, Brene Brown (gahh, I just love her), said that we need to own our stories.
“You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for you worthiness.”Dr. Brene Brown
That’s what I spent a good part of my childhood and young adult life doing–hustling for my worthiness. But after I was able to take an inventory of my shortcomings and decided to make some changes, I found that my worthiness wasn’t attached to anything I did or didn’t do. The main thread through all of this is ACCOUNTABILITY.
Do I take accountability all the time? No.
Am I perfect? Absolutely not.
However, I am trying to be better, to live my life without having to point fingers to the one at fault. I try to look at situations that are challenging me and ask, “What is my role in this?” I can also recognize that many things are out of my control (oooftah, it took me a while to get here). In fact, most everything is out of my control except for how I react to something. I am in charge of me and my emotions. I am in control of how I respond. That gives me freedom to take control of me and take accountability for me, which leads to growth. It’s an ongoing process that will never end, but I am willing to keep making strides to be free from blame.
My story is not unique. So many people have come before me in this journey, and I happen to know and love quite a few of them. When we do this work ourselves, it opens up the door to help others. My hope is that in sharing my story, you have found some healing.
“Your trauma is not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.”Unknown