The mythology of the phoenix is about transforming and renewing our Ego by releasing past suffering, dysfunctional life patterns and wounded parts of ourselves. “It is often your deepest pain which empowers you to grow to your highest self” -karen salmonsohn Pheonix energy is about letting “fire” destroy and purify yourself while still retaining what is good and true in your essence.
One of the most insidious aspects of addiction is that we protect it. It is the familiar beast we know. We use avoidance, denial, blame and other defense mechanisms to keep our use and the rituals of addiction intact. See the “Just for Today,” quote from the NA book:
“Many of us cling to our fears, doubts, self-loathing, or hatred because there is a certain distorted security in familiar pain. It seems safer to embrace what we know than to let go of it for the unknown.”
Basic Text, p. 33
We have often heard it said that “when the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of changing, we will change” Our fear can keep us from growing, afraid to end relationships, change careers, attend new meetings, begin new friendships, or attempt anything out of the ordinary. We stay in situations that are no longer working far longer than we have to simply because what is familiar feels safer than the unknown. Any change involves overcoming fear. “What if I’m alone forever?” we might think if we consider leaving our lover. “What if I find out I’m incompetent?” we may wonder when we contemplate changing careers. We may balk at attending new meetings because we will have to reach out. Our minds manufacture a hundred excuses for remaining right where we are, afraid to try something new.
We find that most of our pain comes not from change but from resistance to change. In NA, we learn that change is how we move forward in our lives. New friends, new relationships, new interests and challenges will replace the old. With these new things in our lives, we find new joys and loves.
Just for today: I will release the old, embrace the new, and grow.
The stages of change in addiction/ recovery compared to the phoenix bird mythology:
- Pre-Contemplation: You like using and it likes you back. You don’t really feel like anything needs to change. You have heard people talk about having been transformed by “the fire.” You avoid it and seek for things to continue status quo.
- Contemplation: You are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” You are using, just to get by. The price of your use has increased. Your personal, family and legal problems are piling up and you are still trying to protect your use by bargaining with yourself, justifying and rationalizing. Things aren’t really working the way they are, but you also are not ready to give it all up and surrender. You have now realized that this transformative fire is within you, and that you can change, but you don’t want to go through the struggle and give up what you love and need from your use.
- Preparation: You are accepting help and planning how to stop using. You are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices and go through the difficult aspects of detox and early recovery. You are standing near the fire, throwing wood on the fire and preparing yourself on every level to step into it.
- Action: You go to detox or do the necessary things to begin sobriety. Sacrifices of people, places and things are made and you withstand the physical discomforts of stopping use. The phoenix bird steps into the flame and allows the old life to be burnt away.
- Maintenance: You protect your newfound happiness. You attend recovery and mental health appointments and meetings. You avoid risky situations and triggers. You are still dealing with negative consequences of your use and sometimes feel anxious about the past and future, but do not use to cope. You are excited about new possibilities for your life and hopeful that if you continue to do your best and not use, things will continue to improve. You are connecting to other people and talking about what you think and feel. You are not the person you were before your use or the person during your use. The fire has burned away who you used to be. You are a new bird in the ashes of its old life.
“Girl on Fire,” by Jeanette LeBlanc
there is a girl
she is wise
and wary of flames
but still, she knows
she will survive the fire
life scorches sometimes.
she has been a phoenix before
and every time
she burns to ashes
exactly how to rise
I invite you to stoke the embers of your inner fire. Coax the flames from your center to the edges of all you reach. Make peace with the parts within you that crave that burn. Let the flames get high. Burn bright. The world needs your light.
Group: Into the Flame
How you think and feel about your life is key to your growth. The experiences of our lives can be used to enhance our ego or make it dysfunctional. Addiction is a dysfunctional response to life that quickly turns into a biological disease. In recovery many people arrive at a point where they have everything to gain and nothing to lose. The Big Red Button. Rock Bottom.
This group helps people articulate what they are losing coming into recovery and moving through the stages of change. There were pleasurable aspects of addiction that met emotional needs need acknowledgement. This group also helps people process and resolve grief and trauma. Awareness of life issues helps people break unconscious patterns. This group can be completed multiple times with the same people. Humans have the need to be witnessed and heard by each other. The energy of the group can give individuals the insight and support needed to experience a breakthrough in progress.
- Place an image or figure of a bird in the center of the group circle. Take a moment for everyone to relax, breathe and imagine that there is a fire in the center of the circle and the bird is in it.
- Everyone check-in with themselves and ask the question: “Is there something in my past or present that I am ready to release?” I always add a disclaimer about the appropriateness of sharing trauma in detail. Sometimes the individual feels ready to share, but a group member is not ready to hear.
- Distribute a piece of paper to each person. On one side of the paper write the thing that you want to release. On the other side of the paper write down what you hope to gain or how you want to grow as a person through the act of letting go.
- Go around the circle. Each person shares their paper then crumples it and throws it into the “fire.”
- Close with the Manta:
“I set my intention to release negativity. I release the past, present and futures in all directions around me. Only positivity and light may reside in my personal space.”