Mission Statement: This series of five workshops is designed to expand understanding of the nature and effects of abuse and, most importantly, to instill the elements that are necessary for a successful recovery.
Timeframe: I have 1.5-hour and 3-hour versions of each class. The two versions cover similar material, but the longer versions include more information and explore the material in more depth. You can choose any number of the classes for your venue.
# of People: Unlimited; the presentation and exercises can be adjusted to accommodate three participants as easily as three hundred.
Lead Time: At least a week of lead time is required in order to advertise the workshop properly.
Descriptions and Objectives:
The Fear Workshop explores the many faces of fear, including anxiety, shame, and even anger. Participants are guided through a variety of tools for putting fear in its place, and discover the abundant world that their fear has been blocking for so long.
Participants in this workshop will learn to identify their fear in its many disguises; will learn to use EFT to dispel their fears; will explore the roots of their fears; and will become able to recognize the dreams and goals that their fear has hidden from them.
The Hope Workshop will guide participants in seeing how people can heal from the damage of trauma and abuse. Along the way, they will discover the passions and interests they have abandoned, explore their potential calling, and plan how to integrate joy and dreams into their daily lives.
Participants in this workshop will gain a greater understanding of the common effects of abuse; will learn from special speakers that healing is possible even in the most extreme cases; will complete written, collaged, and group exercises designed to help them rediscover abandoned parts of themselves and recommit to joy.
The Compassion Workshop will teach participants to distinguish between their abuse and their true value, and unearth a well of compassion for themselves that can release emotional pain and body memories. Perhaps most importantly, this compassion will lead to the ability to raise their standards for themselves and build wonderful lives. It's easy when you can truly commit to yourself!
Participants will learn to apply EFT to release the shame and guilt that they took on for their own abuse histories; will learn and discuss specific levels of self-care; will recognize and learn to combat negative self-talk and other forms of self-abuse; will create "before and after" artwork illustrating what causes them pain in life and how they can change it; and will commit to the group to make specific changes.
The Boundaries Workshop will use fun physical and written exercises to identify boundaries. Participants will become experts in their own feelings, and do great detective work using those feelings to unearth long-neglected boundaries. From there, they will find out how to express, defend, and respect their own and other people's boundaries, and become incredibly powerful in their own lives.
Participants will perform kinesthetic balancing exercises with a partner; will learn tricks for identifying previously avoided emotions; will do written exercises that explore resentments to reveal the boundaries within and the power of responsibility; will engage in further kinesthetic exercises using marbles to visualize the power they are giving away or reclaiming; and will learn to use EFT to strip the fear from their plans to reclaim their boundaries. Particular attention will be given to self-abuse and the way we violate our own boundaries without noticing.
The Honesty Workshop will challenge participants to take careful inventory of self-harming behaviors from bulimia to bouncing checks. It is only by being honest with ourselves about what we want, need, feel, and do that we can become free. This workshop will focus on integrating the commitments and experiences from past weeks and preparing to move into newly joyous and free lives.
Participants will complete a written exercise which helps identify present self-harming behaviors; will learn the connections between past abuse and present-day life; will learn to use EFT to let go of shame around self-harming behaviors, as well as the behaviors themselves; will share their experiences of the workshop series and/or their personal recovery work overall; and will receive tools for continuing this work outside of the workshop environment.
The five-workshop series is based on our theory that there are six basic and necessary elements to recovery from abuse: hope, compassion, boundaries, honesty, support, and service.
Let's explore those elements further:
FEAR: This is the flip side of recovery. It is our fear of how much we have harmed ourselves and others that fuels recovery at first. As we grow in recovery, we grow out of fear.
Every effect of abuse boils down to fear, one way or another. The better we understand our fear, the easier it is for us to leave our fear-based ways of living and move into loving, joyful lives. It is only by facing our fears that we can escape their dragging weight and soar.
This workshop is unlike the others because instead of teaching us to work its subject into our lives, it teaches us to face and then release it. Becoming able to release fear makes it much easier to take the brave, life-changing steps that all of us need in order to have the incredible lives we deserve.
HOPE: This is the absolute most basic thing that people need in order to begin recovery. They need to be able to believe that it is possible for things to change for them. They need to be able to imagine that things can be better. Recovery is like anything else: people need to hear at least some kind of argument that it is a Good Thing before they are willing to start working on it.
Even someone who is suicidal every few weeks, cutting, who can barely leave the house or function in their lives because they are so easily and violently triggered, who struggles with basic self-care and human relationships, won't be willing to start doing any kind of work on it unless they've seen that there honestly is something else out there for them, something better, and that other real people in their situation have gotten there. In fact, while many of us would assume that that person would be the first to do almost anything to change their painful life, the opposite is true - the weighty hopelessness created by years of abuse from within and without becomes nearly invisible to the sufferer. The energy it takes to deny most of this pain, and the pain of past abuse, is so great that there is almost none left for working toward change. In order to change anything, the suffering person must acknowledge the pain they are in, which releases much of that energy so that they can use it for recovery. This process is also known as "the first step."
Eventually, in recovery, this process becomes quicker and quicker. When people have really been working on their problems hard for several years, they begin to see what is possible in others' lives, understand how they got there, and take on the job of getting there themselves quite speedily. But at first, many people don't have the slightest idea that their lives not only can but should be better, much less the willingness to do anything necessary to get there. Hope is optimism, joy, that little spark of connection to the universe that leads us forward. It is like headlights in a tule fog, showing us a little patch of safety and freedom up ahead.
COMPASSION: In order to be willing to take that scary step of setting boundaries, we have to have enough compassion for ourselves to understand that we deserve to set them. Compassion is crucial, most of all for ourselves. We need to be able to raise our standards for our lives. We spend far too much of our time and energy worrying about what others will think, what we are "supposed" to do, how others feel about us, what we can do for other people. Recently I saw an online poll where 16 people said that they would welcome a giftless guest to a party where gifts were expected, but half of them said that they wouldn't go to a gift-expecting party if they couldn't afford a gift. It is codependence, abuse, fear that make it seem eminently reasonable to hold ourselves to harsher rules and standards than we hold others. It is compassion that helps us balance that equation and strive only for our own true standards for humanity, instead of the unreasonable standards we fear everyone else will try to make us meet.
Compassion is the leavening that makes it possible for us to take on the heavy tasks of recovery. I have seen people work twelve-step programs as if the steps were some sort of personal punishment, using each one to scourge themselves for the wrongs they had done in their addiction. This compassionless method leaves out many of the crucial life-saving pieces of recovery. It is, for example, only with compassion that we can accurately tell the difference between situations in which we need to made amends and situations in which we are taking on inappropriate responsibility out of a sense of guilt and self-blame.
Compassion makes honesty and amends much less painful. It is only with compassion that we are able to really commit to sobriety of any kind - because committing to it in order to stop harming others makes it easy to argue that we understand this harm now and can control our addictions and act out without hurting anyone else. We can't really, deeply, commit to stopping until we can accept the ways that it also hurts us, and feel committed to doing anything to support and nurture ourselves instead. Which is why compassion is also the antidote to abuse.
BOUNDARIES: Boundaries are crucial to recovery from abuse. A boundary is the line between what is okay with us and what is not. One very simple definition of abuse is that it is treatment that is deeply and absolutely not okay. The process of recovery, on one level, is the process of drawing and adjusting these lines over and over. We cautiously admit that a situation is not okay with us; fearfully and bravely declare our boundaries; become closer to our own feelings and experiences in our lives; learn new things about where our boundaries need to be as a result; and carefully redraw that line in an even better place. And repeat the process, watching the adjustments become easier and smaller each time.
A boundary is our sense of what we need, of what we want, of what we deserve. At first, it is what we are willing to put up with; later, it is what we are willing to reach out and grab. Boundaries can make our lives safe, enjoyable, even luscious. They are crucial to recovery from any form of abuse or addiction because they are what make safety possible. Without safety and stability in our present-day lives, we can't successfully heal from the chaos and pain of the past.
Boundaries are a function of human interaction. There are plenty of people who won't respect any boundaries on that list; those are the people to walk away from. There are also people who will respect all of them but will never get the chance if you don't believe in your own rights enough to try them. Everything in between those two extremes is also up to you. If we can create worlds for ourselves in which we are always in an abusive relationship and an abusive work environment, we can also create worlds in which we have all the rights and power that we want. That's the incredible thing about recovery from abuse: once you attain adulthood, you have absolute power over the presence of abuse in your life. And the shitty thing about abuse is that it is only the non-abused folks who arrive in the adult world knowing that. The rest of us have to learn it the hard way - but we can.
HONESTY: To be able to bear the burning glare of honesty requires the cooling shade of compassion. But what about boundaries? Should they precede or follow honesty in our travel through recovery?
Of course, all of these elements stay with us and build on one another. But they tend to come in a certain order, at least when we start out with none of them truly under our belts. I think that compassion naturally leads to discovering and understanding our boundaries. And this understanding is the beginning of real honesty in our lives.
Honesty comes so late in this list because it is so intimidating and difficult. It can be terrifying to admit the ways that we have harmed ourselves and others, the bad decisions we have made, and especially the behaviors we need to change. It is also incredibly, deeply necessary. Without rigorous honesty, our efforts to love ourselves, to choose better things in our lives, and to set boundaries with ourselves and others will inevitably grind to a halt, leaving us stuck in a slurry of self-abusive behavior.
SUPPORT AND SERVICE: These are two sides of the same coin: community. There is no workshop for these because they can only be achieved through individual action. Everyone in recovery - or, more accurately, every living being everywhere - needs a community of support. That is how we learn that we are worthy of love and admiration. If we do not learn this as children, we need to find a way to get it as adults.
Humans thrive on community. We are meant to have healthy, interdependent relationships in which we can get our needs met, and help others get their needs met, in appropriate ways that allow everyone room for growth. Just as we need to have a community that supports us - to help us move, to tickle our funnybones, to split the cost of a pizza, to experience joy and sorrow together, to talk things out - we also need to do service in that community.
Service balances the equation. It teaches us that it is all right for us to get support by letting us see what it is like to give that support. In twelve-step programs, people are encouraged to "sponsor" others, to help them work the steps. Sponsors inevitably find that they get as much out of this relationship as their sponsees do, whether it is by seeing much their own lives have changed or by being inspired by an action or point of view they'd never thought of. That is how service works: it reminds us of how far we've come and helps us grow further.