CNM 017: Next Stage Recovery Overview with Dr. Dean Robb

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Dr. Robb has been in recovery for over 30 years, having done an extensive amount of inner work to over come child trauma and the addiction it led to. He also went back to school to do research and academic study in this field, which has become the primary focus of his coaching practice.

Dr. Robb felt led to move into this field due to the insights he developed on individuation “human renewal”, how we grow through crisis and “hitting bottoms”, and how we authentically become who we really are. According to Dr. Robb, “these bottoms and life crises are actually a natural, almost inevitable part of life for most people in their journey to becoming who they really are.”

Addicts (including codependents) with trauma and abusive upbringings are often set up to have one or multiple new “bottoms” even after they’ve dealt with their initial addiction. Some see these new bottoms as a sign of failure, whereas Dr. Robb advises that these new bottoms are actually positive signs – signs that one is recovering.

Q&A with Dr. Robb

Question: When you talk about people who are in “recovery”, could codependents also fall in that group?

Yes.

One time I was in an Al-Anon meeting and heard someone say, “If you can’t smell ‘em, you can’t tell ‘em,” which means that underneath every addiction, there’s almost always a problem with codependency. I see them almost as two sides of one coin.

Question: What does it mean to fully recovery? What is the ultimate purpose of “recovery”?

That changed for me along my path. When I first entered recovery, for me it meant to stop drinking and using drugs, and to figure out how to live a life without those things when they had been my best friend and crutch for quite a long time. Then it started meaning, “how do I learn how to live this life that I never learned how to live?”

My parents taught me nothing about life at all. By the time I was twenty years old, I still didn’t know how to use a checking account. That’s how much they taught me about life. So when I got into recovery, I had to learn all those things about how to adjust and get along in society. But then I started coming in contact with all these deep core issues that I had as a result of trauma as a child growing up in a very dysfunctional abusive household. That trauma and abuse was underneath my own codependency and addiction, and a few years later I started realizing that the ultimate purpose in recovery is to do all these things, but also to discover who you really are, your authentic self, and then to live your life in accordance with that.

Question: The title of your practice, Next Stage Recovery, says a lot about your focus. Can you elaborate a little more on the big differences between first stage and “next stage” recovery?

First stage recovery is coming to grips with putting your addictions down, whether it’s codependency, drugs or alcohol, sex, gambling, etc. and learning how to cope with life without resorting to that crutch. It could also include learning the basics of how to live life. Again, as I mentioned, a lot of recovering addicts were more or less raised by a pack of wolves. They have no idea what life’s about and how to cope with it when they come into recovery. And so, I think first stage recovery is learning all those very basic things about life and adapting yourself to it without your addiction as a crutch. That is a lot of work and I place a lot of honor on that work.

I think ultimately for many people in recovery, there’s a reason why we used our addictions; it was to cover up pain. And the pain that often stems from abuse and trauma is usually very deep in the subconscious of a person, and often does not come up for 5, 10, or even 20 years in recovery.

Next stage recovery is when you start to work on those core issues that stem from childhood dysfunction, abuse, and trauma, and that are often behind codependency and addictions. You deal with those issues and then ultimately discover who you really are way down deep. I think the ultimate in next stage recovery is self-discovery and living out your life in accordance with your God-given identity.

Question: Some believe that if they could just overcome their immediate issue with codependency, then the grass would be greener on the other side. It’s important to talk about this later stage aspect of recovery, and we’ll be covering several of the stages you’ve written about in detail later in the series. For starters, you’ve written about “hitting a new bottom”. What exactly do you mean by that?

It can mean different things to different people. Usually, at a minimum it means to encounter a great deal of pain. For some people, their whole life starts falling apart before their eyes, or a major relationship falls apart for them, like a marriage. Maybe they realize they hate their career, or they get themselves into a new addiction they didn’t have previously. It’s a period where the old recovery platitudes of “turn it over, get grateful, pray and mediate your way out of this” don’t work anymore. It can be characterized by a feeling of desperation, emptiness, meaninglessness, or just a lot of pain because things are not going according to plan.

Question: Another stage you mention in your writing is mining the “shame-core”. What does that really mean and why is mining the shame core so important in next stage recovery?

This is a complex topic that I’ll try to simplify. When I talk about entering a “new bottom” and your life falling apart, what is going on there is that when we were raised in dysfunctional, abusive, or traumatic family situations, we unconsciously learn certain life strategies, strategies for getting along in the world, that helped us survive in a very dangerous, unpredictable setting. And those coping strategies helped us survive as children, but the problem is they generally don’t work very well as an adult in the world dealing with other adults, because they’re dysfunctional coping strategies. When you hit a new bottom, all those strategies start wearing out and you start realizing that your way of living is a sham.

You will eventually discover that, as children growing up in these dangerous environments with people who were supposed to be taking care of us, we were shamed in one way or another. If we grew up in those environments, we have feelings of worthlessness and shame. And underneath these dysfunctional behaviors is this “core of shame” that most of us are unconscious of. We cannot give up those dysfunctional behaviors unless we go underneath them to find, access, feel, and begin to let go of the extreme deep well of shame. If you were raised in a dysfunctional, traumatic, or abusive family, you are likely walking around with a deep well of shame that is unconscious. And unfortunately, until you deal with it, it’s running your life, and not in a good way.

Recovery, at this next stage, means confronting dysfunctional behaviors, abuse, and the shame that’s underneath all of that and working it through.

Question: Let’s say I grew up in an environment where I needed to take control of people and situations in order to stay safe. So as an adult, I have tendency to dominate situations even when that’s not required to stay safe, and it turns people off and causes problems for me. Is this a fair example of a “life strategy” I need to give up?

Yes, that’s a thousand percent a good example. Codependency itself, to me, is a set of inter-related behaviors that were in fact coping strategies as a little kid, either care-taking your parents (instead of them taking caring of you) or collapsing and becoming the helpless one that needs to be taken care of; both are attempts to stop the abuse. The problem is they become learned behaviors that are lived out over the course of our lives. They helped us to some extent to stop or lessen the abuse as a child, but they don’t work as adults.

Question: Another part of next stage recovery I read about in your blog is called “individuation” and relinquishing the “false-self”. Is this part of everyone’s recovery, and why is this part of the process?

I hope and pray that it’s part of everyone’s recovery; the sad part is it probably isn’t. I know many people in recovery that unconsciously don’t want to do this type of work. I can’t really blame them because it means confronting this repressed pain that’s buried very deep, and not everyone wants to do that. If you’re an addict, you’ve probably been running from pain your entire life and using your addiction as a crutch. If you want to get into this next stage recovery, you not only have to stop using a drug, you have to stop using various strategies of running away from the pain, and you have to go into that pain. On a practical level, not everybody wants to do that. The problem is, you can’t get the good parts of next stage recovery without doing that, and the next parts (the good parts) are individuation… “Individuation” is a technical term that comes from psychology, it was used by Carl Young extensively. In a nutshell, it means discovering your true, authentic inner self, becoming whole, healed, and fulfilled.

I invite people to do that work. I think it’s a real shame to go to your deathbed and not really know who you are; to find out when you’re 80 that you’ve been living somebody else’s life because you ran away from your own pain.

Question: Which of these stages do you think people get “stuck” in most?

Stage One (hitting a new bottom), there’s no question about it. I don’t mean to be negative, but these are the facts. Probably one in ten people in recovery do the work of next stage recovery for the reasons I just mentioned.

About Dr. Dean Robb

Dr. Dean Robb is a recovery coach who works with people who have a solid handle on their primary addiction, but who feel unfulfilled, who are worried that they might be hitting a new bottom in recovery, who are having serious problems in their relationships or career, who feel spiritually dry or empty, who feel like they might be living someone else’s life instead of their own or just feel like “Is that all there is?”

Dr. Robb helps people with these kinds of problems to create a healthy, fulfilling life that is aligned with the deepest desires of their authentic inner self.

Dr. Robb has a Masters Degree in Human Development and a PhD Degree in Human Development and Organizational Development. He has done extensive academic research into the process of emotional and spiritual reinvention and renewal; that is, of hitting bottom and rebuilding a new life that works from the ashes of the old one. Dr. Robb’s competence and expertise have been forged from over 30 years of personal recovery experience combined with knowledge and insight acquired through extensive academic and clinical training and research. On top of that, he has long-term experience in the world of corporate training, facilitation, organizational development consulting, and performance improvement consulting.

Dr. Robb can be reached at drrobb@nextstagerecovery.com, by phone at 908-922-3009, on the internet at www.NextStageRecovery.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/nextstagerecovery, and on Twitter at @RecoverWithDean.

What do YOU think? Have you hit “next stage recovery”, or witnessed others in it? Comment below!