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Art with Erika

the journey of an artist – painting life with purpose

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“12 Steps” – November 17, 2017

My newest drawing “Calm”, was going to be the introduction to a collection inspired by my own journey and experience with 12 steps of recovery for co-dependency, but I feel that my heart and spirit is telling me that this post is where this journey will start and where it will end. This is enough for now.  Still, I wanted to give a short overview of my experience with the 12 Steps.

There’s “The Bottom” and Then There’s “Rock Bottom”

“Rock Bottom” is what a person has to hit in order for genuine change to happen. There is a place called “The Bottom”, which looks like “Rock Bottom”, but it’s not.  When a person has reached “The Bottom” they might realize that something is wrong in their life, and they might even realize that they have a problem or that they are the problem, but they haven’t come to terms with changing and healing.  They continue on in their same lifestyle for the most part, getting caught up in drugs or alcohol (or anything they are addicted to, which could literally be anything), or they could lose themselves completely within other people.  Their lives have become out of control, but not so out of control that they won’t stop themselves from their patterns of destruction and abuse. This pattern of “false realization” might happen once, twice, or too many times to count, but for whatever reason this person continues to point the finger at everyone else while holding their self-proclaimed title of “victim”.  All of this is called denial.  This is also why people bounce in and out of recovery: they haven’t had enough.

A person who has hit “Rock Bottom” has gone so far beyond this point of denial that there is no more slack in his rope for him to walk anywhere but straight into recovery. This point is relative; it is different for everyone, and every person comes to this point in their own pace and timing.  A person knows when they’ve hit “Rock Bottom” only when they’ve hit it, and not a moment before. There is an internal shift, and the world around them looks different than it ever was before the moment. For some people this moment comes after chemical addiction has robbed them of their family, friends, and life. For others, the inability to control the people around them has caused them to lose control of themselves entirely and they collapse under the pressure. Everyone has a breaking point, but the most important thing to take away from all this is that you can’t force somebody to heal, you can’t fix anybody, and a person’s “Rock Bottom” can only be determined by that person and no one else. They have to be willing and able to change, and more importantly they have to want to change enough to do so. “When they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, only then will they will do what they need to do to change.”

What the 12 Steps Helped Give Me

After I pieced together that I was a codependent person who chose to be in relationships with abusive people, I sought help. For a very long time I thought of myself as a victim who kept falling in love with people who turned out to be abusive, later on. I kept pointing the finger at everyone else except myself, and it wasn’t until I pointed the finger at myself and took a good long look in the mirror that I realized that I was my own worst enemy. I was the only person who was in control of my life.  I learned that I was not in control of anyone else’s life, and no amount of lecturing, finger-pointing, blaming, or fighting was going to change anyone around me. It is not my responsibility to be responsible for people who are irresponsible. The only person that I am responsible for is me.

Through the 12 step program, I would learn how to build genuine self-esteem, confidence, and a healthy and realistic love for myself, for the first time in my life.  Most of all, this program helped me build a loving, balanced relationship with God.  (My version of God was warped by abuse)  And although all of this growth will always be a work in progress, I am much further along than I ever have been before. I feel like I am living a life that was meant for me for the first time, with God’s genuine guidance and love. I feel like I can say “no” to people without feeling guilty for hurting their feelings. (It’s still difficult, but I’m always practicing)  I don’t have to stretch myself too thin, or take on too much, and I have given myself permission to enjoy life, because it is meant to be enjoyed above all else. This is what the 12 step program gave me.  It gave me a sense of peace, freedom, and calm. It helped me center myself, it helped me solidify my spirituality, and it helped me set the stones to become the person who God had intended me to be all along, and maybe even a more whole and more compassionate version because of the adversity.

There are times when I look at friends who have been dealt a healthier life, and I do become jealous.  They were taught how to create boundaries, and they were taught how to say no.  They were taught how to value themselves, they were loved unconditionally, and as a result they had lived relatively healthy lives with minimal to no abuse.  I do not wish for anyone to go through abuse, but I understand that hard times hit all of us in one way or another.  Some of these things can be prevented, and some of these things we cannot prevent, no matter how hard we try. The only thing that we can do is to learn and grow from our trials and the brokenness that has been passed onto us by the broken adults in our lives. 

calm RBG - square - low res 1

Wholeness and Beauty in Brokenness

In Japan, broken pottery pieces are mended together using gold, so that their cracks are highlighted.  The Japanese people believe that the hardship that these pieces went through have made the pottery more beautiful.  Their stories and their trials have made them uniquely whole, and have made their journey more valuable.  I do believe that adversity needs to be present in a person’s life in order for them to become completely whole.  There is a certain knowledge and understanding that is obtained through the breaking and mending process, and maybe it is more of a form of compassion than anything else. Regardless, one person’s recovery story is a shining light for people who are currently going through recovery or who have not found the courage to start yet. This is why it is so important to be open about recovery, and to try to share our stories.

Our society in America is not one that is fond of mental health practices as a whole. I know a lot of people who think that psychologists are nut cases, and that the people who go to them are crazier than the psychologist herself.  The 12 step program is wrapped up in this malicious way of thinking. No one should ever be made to feel that they are stupid, or that they are less of a person because they are trying to better themselves.  Mental health is equal, if not, more important than physical health, and it does effect physical well-being more than people realize.  So many ailments and diseases (including cancer) stem from stress and a lack of mental rest and balance.

It would benefit every person to read about the 12 step program. I believe that everyone can walk away learning something either for themselves or for a loved one.  Everyone knows somebody who is an addict, or somebody whose life is spiraling out of control (or maybe just annoyingly unbalanced and subtly unhealthy), and it might be you, or it might be a loved one.  It’s great for everyone to have this information under their belt so that when adversity does hit (and it will), every person will be prepared for what comes next.

AA, Al-Anon, Co-DA, and every other 12 step recovery group follow the following guide (revised for each group of people dealing with different ailments – the list below is for Co-DA – Codependents Anonymous).  I do encourage people to look up more information so that they might help themselves or people around them.  Just remember that the 12 steps is a program that has to happen through the pace and willingness of the addict. 

The 12 Steps of Co-Dependency

  1.  We admitted we were powerless over others, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Each step is to be taken at the right moment, and it is a process that cannot be rushed.  The more thorough, honest, and self-aware a person is, the more they will get out of the program.  Many times, individuals have decades of abuse to work through.  I have noticed that people who start the program in their mid life, which is usually the case, have exponentially more baggage than those who start in their 20’s or 30’s. (not all of the time, but most of the time)  As a result, a lot of people have to work through the program multiple times in order to get to the REAL root of ALL their problems: themselves.

A lot of people work through the program the first time continuing their finger-pointing victimization process instead of looking at themselves, and they can get stuck in this mindset for another decade or two over the course of their recovery.  There are a lot of people who stay stuck in recovery, forever pointing fingers and holding grudges.  A person will change when they are ready to change, and nothing that you do can push them to move faster.  But, understanding human brokenness, and practicing empathy and compassion, is something that all of us need to do if we are going to survive this crazy roller coaster ride. 

Some people never have to get on the roller coaster, and some people don’t know what the roller coaster feels like. Some people have been on the roller coaster and have ridden it enough times to know that they don’t want to ride anymore. And then there are people who think they want to get off the roller coaster who really don’t want to. It’s not our job to unbuckle the people from the roller coaster and force them down the stairs and off the ride. But understanding how they got on there to begin with, understanding the physics of the ride, and the passengers, and understanding what it takes to step off the ride can help those who need help when they ask for support.  So please, read through at least some of the program, because being aware and being conscious of other people and their battles, is what brings us all closer together. The compassion that we practice makes this world of much better place.

calm - RBG low res
“Calm” – 2017 – Digital Painting – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

“The Narcissist” – November 11, 2017

Narcissism is a term that has been loosely used to describe celebrities, people who are over-confident, individuals who are proud or full of themselves, and even a whole generation of young people called Millennials.  While many teenagers and youngsters can go through a ‘narcissistic’ phase, it doesn’t make them narcissists.  And some people can be a little too confident in whom they are, but it doesn’t make them narcissists, either.

Every person has some narcissistic qualities, and it is healthy to have confidence and a SOBER minded view of yourself that is in balance with the world around you.  People who accomplish amazing things do have a right to claim greatness among people, and others with a crap load of talent should weigh themselves accordingly, though it is more palatable for the rest of us if they are a little more humble than boastful.  Realistic acknowledgement of accomplishments and who one is and isn’t doesn’t make them a narcissist.

What makes a person a narcissist is GRANDIOSITY.  It’s when a person thinks TOO highly of who they are, what they have done, what they deserve, and what they can do.  More importantly, their image comes at the expense of those around them.  They do not have the ability to look at themselves with clear eyes and see where they fall on the scale of life compared to other people.  It is a heavy and dangerous psychological disorder.  It effects more men than women and it is estimated that probably about 1% of people have NDP (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

The wonderful thing about narcissists is that most of them are fun-loving people and they blend in with the American culture effortlessly.  The stereotype that society has formed features a good-looking, selfish, business man who rambles on about himself and shoves backhanded compliments in people’s faces.  But, most real narcissists are not the people who you would expect.  Not all of them are attractive, most of them aren’t rich, many of them aren’t famous, and not all of them dabble in business.  They are charming and witty, and start out as good friends who seem to care.  Their charm is what makes them dangerous, and you can hang out with one for decades and never know who they really are because of the ever-changing beautiful and intricate masks that they switch out for you.

A narcissist is a master manipulator and an expert at discarding or shuffling people around in his life in order to suit his needs.  His innermost circle of pawns will be the only ones who really see him with his mask off and these people usually only include spouses or long-term lovers, and children or his most immediate family (family that he currently lives with).  Friends (including roommates) and non-immediate family, though seemingly close from an outside perspective, will usually be placed at a far enough distance so that they don’t experience the genuine intimacy, and eventually the abuse, that stems from the carelessness of a narcissist at close quarters.  It is because of this distance that a victim’s outreach for council from friends or family is corroded with statements that echo the words “are you sure he is a narcissist?  He doesn’t seem like one.  I think he’s a really nice guy.  I’ve never seen it.  It doesn’t sound like him.” Well, he is a nice guy, until you get to know the real person.  It can take months or even years for the mask to finally slip.  No one can wear a mask forever; there is a breaking point with every narcissist.  And once that breaking point is reached, the mask that was made specifically for you starts to crumble quickly, and abuse runs rampant behind closed doors.

Diagnosing narcissism is difficult because of the character of the narcissist himself.  He doesn’t like to be told that there is anything wrong with him (God forbid) and it isn’t unlike him to start gaslighting the psychologist herself.  The result is that she feels that SHE is the crazy one who has been wrong about him all along.  Narcissists make excellent crooked lawyers and politicians, and are amazing at making you think that everything that comes from their lips is gold and that everything that comes from your lips is pure crap and lies.  Even if a narcissist were to cooperate in a therapy session, he wouldn’t have enough genuine insight into his own mind, or the proper emotional analysis of his friends or family, in order to heal.  He is a living and breathing catch-22, which means that his narcissism cannot be cured.  But those around him can learn how to create healthy boundaries so that the narcissist doesn’t rule over their lives, and they may find a semblance of sanity and balance.  If this seems depressing, believe me, it is.  A narcissist will forever be stuck in his patterns and ways, but will be somewhat content.  Those surrounding him are the ones who suffer for lack of genuine intimacy, and the need to stay distant or even disconnected from him. 

It is not certain how Narcissism is formed, but one pattern that has been present in every Narcissist in my life has been their upbringing.  I don’t believe that anyone is born a narcissist, but a person is groomed to become one.  The narcissist child is usually raised with a sense of entitlement whose every need is catered to and who is taught to believe that they deserve and can have whatever they want, without regard to anyone else.  On the other hand the child might be given special treatment, or might have been allowed to do things, break rules/skip punishment, or have things that didn’t fit the status quo.  This was allowed to happen because of the lack of something else in his life (usually the presence of loving adults is lacking).  This in turn creates a sense of entitlement in the child that follows him into adulthood, and he ends up using coercion and charm to get what he wants from the people around him.  He is never taught how to properly love people, but only exchange with or take from people.

Our childhood patterns ALWAYS follow us into adulthood until they are broken.  At the root of every Narcissist’s heart is probably one of the most damaged and insecure individuals, though initial reactions with them would seem to prove otherwise.  As much as they have been a thorn in my side, I feel bad for them, because I know that they are damaged, but, on the other hand, they will never know it.  They can’t take criticism very well, but they also think much too highly of themselves to even think twice about the criticism.  (And they will never let you forget about that critique for as long as you live, either, so choose your words wisely).  Narcissists feel pretty good about themselves, because they think too highly of themselves to even know that anything is wrong, even if every scrap of evidence is thrown at them.  If you do decide to fight or fix him, you will be gaslighted, and it will be thrown back in your face, and you will feel like you are insane, and he will confirm that theory, and you will briefly question what just happened as he turns around and gives you the silent treatment for however long he thinks you deserve it.  He needs you to be obedient to him and he will punish you if you fall out of line.

Diagnosis for Narcissism is rarely official because they “know more about psychology than psychologists”.  But, those around him who have been through therapy, who see common patterns of abuse, can piece together his unofficial diagnosis.  Most narcissists are verbally and mentally abusive as opposed to physically abusive (but some can be physical, too, especially with significant others).  A person needs to embody five of the following traits in order to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  These are not to be taken lightly:

–          An exaggerated or grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized without achieving said achievements)

–          Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

–          Believes that they are “special” and unique and that they can only be understood by, and should only associate with, other special people or high-status people or institutions.

–          Requires excessive admiration (doesn’t need to be genuine)

–          Has a sense of entitlement.  Has unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

–          Is exploitive of others.  Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

–          Lacks empathy.  Unwilling or unable to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

–          Is often envious of others or believes that they are envious of him.

–          Regularly shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.

A narcissist is a beautiful creature, at first glance.  His mask is intricate and distracting, his words are silky and charming, and he is exactly what you think you need.  He has made this mask especially for you, because you are special, too, and he wants to add you to his collection of desirable people.  You don’t realize it, but he has turned himself into your perfect person, and all he wants in return is for you to do whatever he desires, no questions asked.  But, he is a black hole, a broken creature, and a parasite.  A narcissist will never know his real, insecure, and abused childhood self, but he knows what he wants right now.  He will manipulate everyone around him in order to play out his perfect façade to the rest of the world, and he will crush anyone who tarnishes his image or anyone who gets in the way of achieving his desires, especially his family…

The Narcissist RBG low res
“The Narcissist” – 2017 – Digital Drawing – 18″ by 12″ – Photoshop – By Erika Robertson

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