Step 7: Healing the Fragmented Self

“Humbling asked God to remove our shortcomings”

-Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 Steps

Imagine a vessel that has been thrown on the ground and breaks into tens, if not, hundreds, of large and tiny fragments. The quest to make whole that vessel takes skillfulness and a willingness for whomever decides to reassemble that container. The addicted person’s mind is a fragmented vessel. Addiction fractures the core personality to survive harsh conditions in their environment. People with addictions speak in parts language such as “my addict is talking”, “the me that uses”, or “the sober me would never do that”. The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book give us the Doctor Jekyll Mr. Hyde prototype for the wounding and splitting in active addiction. 

In our prior Step Six work we faced our dissociation and emotional parts (EPs) of self. Over the course of our addiction we develop survival behaviors and mindsets that were clever for a harsh world but no longer serve a purpose. Recognizing the existence of EPs is only one half of the equation. Recovery requires that we work daily to heal the wounded parts of ourselves. We can no longer live in a state of denial. Recovery is an active process. 12-Step programs celebrate the philosophy “progress not perfection”. No one can heal perfectly. But everyone can progress from woundedness to thriving/healing. Healing the fragmented self takes grit, willingness, rigorous honesty, and dedication. No one can predict how long that healing journey will take. At times we may feel like giving up and these feelings are completely reasonable. It can feel overwhelming.  

Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation by Dr. Janina Fisher changed the way I understand active recovery. Dr. Fisher connects dissociation to the experience of living a parallel life. Wounded people find adapt ways to avoid pain and the reality of what happened through denial, dissociation, and other risk-taking behaviors. Often a person identifies with one part of their personality at the expense of their whole personality. 

In Step 7 we ask our higher power’s assistance in healing the fragmented self. The phrasing shortcomings does not align with a trauma-informed approach. I made a case in the previous post about understanding the traumatization process which created the addiction and continues the vicious cycle. This step invites us to ask our higher power (or members of the fellowship) to assist us in repairing old wounds. 

Facing our dissociative mind prepares us to understand its depth and healing power. Healing dissociation is no easy task. As a person in recovery from alcoholism and sexual addiction I have come to terms with my fragmented self. I have a dissociative disorder. I have a fragmented mind in process of healing. Today, I will no longer live in the delusion that I am someone I am not. What it took for me to heal was digging deep, being comfortable with being terrifyingly uncomfortable, turning into my dissociative mind, and relying on the program and a higher power. I realized the 12-Steps and Traditions alone could not keep me in recovery. Anytime I would make a gain early in the recovery process my unhealed fragmented parts would surface and negatively impact my decision making and thought processes. 

I thankfully had the gift of desperation. I trusted in the program, my sponsor, and the training I had as a trauma therapist to help me heal. Seeking therapy with someone skilled in treating dissociation and the fragmented self is a must. I could not do this alone. Recovery taught me early on that I could heal myself. I am grateful for people who walked the path before me who showed me that healing takes a village. I needed other people and a higher power of my understanding to help me. Relying on a higher power was not a sign of weakness.

The first time I started EMDR we did an exercise called Fraser’s Dissociative Table in which you invite the various parts of yourself into a room. I had a room to the side for any part of myself which was scared or unwilling to join. I was skeptical at first. I soon discovered that I was dissociative as fuck. I recognized eleven or more parts of myself. I was instructed by my therapist to interview each part for their age, gender, and function in my life. After this round robin meet and greet, I was given instruction to ask my parts whether they were willing to work with me to heal. I cried harder than I expected I would. Through the tears I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, there was a way out of the suffering and a new path could be forged. 

Trauma therapy and working the seventh step helped me to create a new relationship with the past. I trusted my higher power to guide me along the way. On the drive to Depew, NY for EMDR session I meditated and prayed for my higher power to guide me in healing my fragmented soul and mind. In therapy my parts learned that it was no longer the year or age the traumatic memory happened. Dr. Fisher writes about “differentiating the past from the present” (p. 49). In active trauma mode my mind did not recognize I was 31. Unresolved trauma finds its way to the present. Like step work healing the fragmented self is a continuous process. I came to see the wounded attachments my parts had in the past. Until I could appreciate their pain and heal their wounds I could not stay in long-term recovery. I had to grieve the shoulda, coulda, wouldas of a life which never manifested. I had to let go of the past. Letting go for me did not mean forgetting. What it meant was I no longer needed to beat myself up for what could have been, what I did not get, or a need that went unmet. 

Dr. Fisher’s model to heal the alienated self encourages recovery seekers to embrace curiosity for their fragmented parts. Understanding how parts work with and against each other is also critical to the healing process. In recovery circles we must begin to normalize parts language. I believe the founders of AA understood in an intuitive way the war which wages inside the minds, hearts, and spirits of men and women who seek recovery from addictive substance and behaviors. We must begin to befriend out parts. 

The Guest House, written by Jellaludin Rumi, a 13th century Iranian poet, describes parts work. Rumi writes:

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. — The Guest House, Jellaludin Rumi, 13th Century Iranian poet

Many of the greatest minds in the world that I respect experienced trauma and fragmentation of self. The 12-steps presents us with an opportunity to appreciate the vicissitudes of our dissociative minds. The trauma work and 12-step work I started nearly six years ago continues today. I no longer feel crazy. Embracing the various dissociative parts of my personality has helped me to live a rich, more meaningful, and fuller life. 

Today, I can have significant connections to others because I work to heal my fragmented self. I am a work in process. I find myself pausing in moments of silence to seek the inner wisdom my parts have to offer me. My spiritual part in concert with my inner system help me stay grounded on the path of recovery. 

As a result of recovery and trauma work, I get the opportunity to guide other people who experience dissociation heal. I believe to heal our fragmented self we need to speak openly about it. I am proud to own my dissociation. I am the person today because my mind found ways to survive in a cold, abusive, and violent world. I recognize in the present moment that I no longer need the old trappings of survival. I choose to thrive today with the help of the fellowship, sponsorship, meetings, therapy, hobbies, raising a family, and so much. 

The promises of recovery come true if we work patiently and hard to achieve them. Never give up. Recognize you are worthy of healing and a life beyond your wildest dreams. 

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