Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. At the core, gaslighting is meant to make someone feel unstable in their own mind. By telling people that they are wrong and ‘crazy’ people lose their sense of self. Unfortunately, gaslighting can occur in recovery.
Discussing addiction and alcoholism can take a dark turn. Neuroscience-based models of addiction teach us that the brain is rewired by repeated and abusive use of drugs and alcohol. Lightly referred to as a ‘broken brain’. Some people can take that model too far. When outside opinions make you feel that your brain is so broken it is not to be trusted at all- that is a sign of spiritual gaslighting in recovery. Indeed, there may have been times in your life where you truly felt this way. It may even have been true. Recovery is both a learning and healing process, taken day by day.
Avoiding Bullying in Recovery
Old-school, conservative recovery people berate newcomers with demeaning statements that they’re worthless, useless, and cannot be trusted until they’ve stayed sober for a while. It is true that some of our behaviors, until changed, are hardly useful or trustworthy. They tell them that they have “broken pickers” and that they couldn’t make a good decision if it was right in front of them, because their mind is not their friend. If they have a thought that isn’t first reviewed by their sponsor, their home group, and a few of their sober friends, they might as well discount it entirely. Gaslighting is telling someone that they cannot trust their own mind or judgment.
There is a difference between gaslighting and practical humility. Humility is is a “modest or low view of one’s importance”. At best, humility is a practice in reducing ego. Reducing ego is one thing, questioning the validity of one’s own thoughts is another.
Another dangerous sentiment in recovery is the idea that the disease of addiction is “always waiting in the parking lots.” Meaning that you’re never entirely free of addiction. Viewing addiction as a disease like cancer should come with the important components of “relapsing” and “remitting”. Recovery is, and can be, an extended period of remission from the disease of addiction. Relapse is possible at any moment. By not practicing the tools, and keeping up with the new way of living, there is a risk for making a poor judgment by picking up a drink or a drug. Cancer can be inhibited through healthy living, but even the most healthy individual can enter a state of relapse.