Wounded Healers: Feeding the Recovery Wolf

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By Tim Stein

Meditation from Gifts of Recovery.

“A Cherokee elder was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, ‘A fight is going on inside me… it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, hatefulness, and lies. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, humbleness, kindness, friendship, generosity, faith, and truth. This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person, too.’ The children thought about it for a minute. Then one child asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’ The Cherokee elder replied… ’The one you feed.’”
–Unknown

Addicts have a recovery wolf and an addict wolf; we have spent much of our lives feeding the addict wolf. However, we can make choices every day that feed the recovery wolf: holding mental boundaries instead of embracing addictive thoughts, reminding ourselves that other people are human beings and not sexual objects for us to use voyeuristically, and pushing ourselves to be rigorously honest even when it feels scary or uncomfortable. It will not happen overnight but eventually the recovery wolf will win.

What choices do I make that feed the addict wolf? Have I started to feed the recovery wolf? What gifts await me as I consciously and consistently feed the recovery wolf?

As therapists working in recovery, we see the slow change from a life of addiction to a life of recovery in our clients. We guide and educate our clients about the small choices they make that feed their addict wolf. We guide them in learning how to feed their recovery wolf. We patiently support them as they struggle with changing their choices and patterns in obvious ways (eating at the deli instead of the bar, watching safe TV instead of risqué ‘not porn,’ or stocking their pantry with healthy choices) and subtle ways (sharing when they are ‘off’ with others, kicking in their program when they notice they are judging others, or making sobriety plans for upcoming and potentially challenging events). Learning the difference between feeding the addict wolf as opposed to the recovery wolf and then consistently following through on this takes time and practice.

As wounded healers, we must make these same choices daily. It is dangerous for us to assume that because we are therapists and are guiding others in this process, we do not need to consciously feed our recovery wolf and starve our addict wolf. Guiding others in this process is not the same as doing this work ourselves.

It can be helpful to ask ourselves, “What am I currently doing that feeds my addict wolf, even if it is subtle?” Some examples of how therapists may feed our addict wolf are:

  • Scheduling a day of client sessions with no breaks.
  • Charging too little for our services.
  • Watching videos, perhaps even professionally relevant videos, that are potentially triggering.
  • Not replacing an in-person 12-step meeting that our clients attend with a professionals 12-step meeting.
  • Not admitting to someone (partner, trusted friend, trusted professional support) when we are ‘off.’
  • Taking our clients’ issues home with us.
  • Having few interests or activities outside of work.

On the other hand, it is equally (if not more) important to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to feed my recovery wolf, even when it is difficult?” Some obvious examples are doing the opposite of the things on the list above (scheduling breaks, charging appropriate fees, holding boundaries on media, etc.). Some other examples are:

  • Getting outside during our workday.
  • Peeing when we need to pee instead of holding it while we finish the session note.
  • Keeping a reasonable schedule (both daily and weekly).
  • Actively maintaining recovery relationships.
  • Actively maintaining non-recovery friendships.
  • Reading a not work-related book.
  • Eating somewhere other than at our desk.
  • Going on a date.

What we do to starve our addict wolf and feed our recovery wolf might look different than what our clients do. It may be more subtle. It may be more recovery-based (moderation in all things) and less sobriety-based. It may be more maintenance than creation. Or, we may need exactly what we are prescribing to our clients. It really does not matter. What does matter is that we continually and consciously move this process forward.