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By Tim Stein

Meditation from Gifts of Recovery.

The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one of two things: either love or a call for love.
–Marianne Williamson

If we only look at the surface of behavior, we can miss the deeper intention. The surface behavior and the intention underneath can be very different. Individuals who act as catalysts for change accept another’s behavior and look for the underlying intention. While they keep their boundaries in place, these catalysts for change seek to understand what the person is expressing or asking for by behaving this way. We can offer this gift of acceptance and understanding to others. We can also apply this to ourselves. When we are attempting to change a long-standing behavior, it rarely works to simply say to ourselves “don’t do that.” When we address the wounds and desires underneath our long-standing behavior, we become a catalyst for our own change. Acceptance and understanding are gifts we can give to others and to ourselves.

Do I judge my own and others’ behaviors? Has this been helpful? What gifts await me as I give acceptance and understanding?

In an overly simplified view of addiction therapy, there are two basic roles I take on: the hard-ass addiction therapist and the kind, affirming trauma therapist. Both roles have their benefits and their place. In my most effective therapeutic work, I move between these roles seamlessly based on the client’s needs in the moment or specific situation. However, I sometimes find it hard to embrace the kind, affirming trauma therapist role, especially when my client’s behavior is directly and negatively impacting others. In these moments, it is easier to lean in as the hard-ass addiction therapist.

My work with a particular client highlights the challenge and importance of embracing the kind, affirming therapist role when it would have been easier to go the hard-ass addiction therapist route. Week after week this client would come to therapy and tell me that he was continuing his addictive behaviors and intentionally not using the program, the community, or the tools of sobriety. In these sessions, it was easy for me to put on my hard-ass addiction therapist hat partly because of the therapeutic benefit of holding solid boundaries and presenting an unfiltered reflection of reality and partly based on my fear that a kind, affirming trauma therapeutic approach might enable the client to reinforce his addiction choices.

The client’s acting out patterns finally led him into such pain and self-questioning that he could no longer ignore or deny the consequences of his addiction. He reached a point where he actually made calls to members of his recovery community and then asked to schedule an appointment with me ASAP. As he described his experience to me, my hard-ass addiction therapist wanted to point out how the client was actively getting in the way of what he deeply wanted and push him on “Are you ready to work on getting sober now?” Instead, my therapeutic instinct led me to take the kinder, affirming trauma therapist approach. I figuratively pulled out my trauma tool kit, helped him identify the core of his pain as he currently understood it, and provided support and guidance as he started the long process of healing his trauma wounds. In that session, he became aware of and accepted the relational trauma he carried from his family of origin so he could start actively working on it. He allowed himself to express significant emotion in session, possibly for the first time since I had been working with him. He started to recognize how he was recreating these same relational traumas with his own children. This session was a turning point in his recovery.

This client’s journey reminds me how important it is to see behaviors, even those I am deeply bothered by, as calls for love. I think back to my own addictive behaviors and how harmful they were to me and those around me. I appreciate the kind, affirming trauma therapists who helped me to acknowledge and heal the deep pain I had been avoiding. I remember how terrifying and yet life-altering it was to acknowledge and address my trauma. I understand how my addiction was really a call for love (i.e., to be accepted, to be seen as enough, to feel equal to others, to believe I was worthy). I know how important learning to truly and deeply love myself has been to my sobriety, recovery, and relationships. This deep, life-changing work required my therapists to see my behavior as a call for love; they needed to become miracle workers.

There is a time and a place for the hard-ass addiction therapist. However, it is often a more courageous and effective choice to embrace the way of the miracle worker. In our work as therapists, seeing behaviors as either love or a call for love can open the door for our clients to work through some of their more problematic issues and behaviors. In our own continuous recovery, seeing our own behaviors as either love or a call for love can help us to let go of resentment, fear, and addictive urges so we can satisfy the real issues underneath. As wounded healers, embracing the way of the miracle worker supports healing for our clients as well as for ourselves.