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From the vantage point of four years after my initial act of looking, I am seeing the recovery, and subsequent period, as one of uncovering ever deepening layers. When I first looked, I didn't know what I had done, or considered it trivial, only to have the recovery period hit me like a wave six months later. The first layer to be exposed was anger. I felt justified and unjustified anger well up like a hot spring where previously I was rather passive and unemotional. Suddenly I felt anger and frustration over small, trivial things and blinding rage over larger issues. Pustules of anger would erupt throughout my day unexpectedly. I can only imagine in retrospect that this was long suppressed anger coming out when my defenses came down. This lasted several months. Fortunately I didn't hurt anyone.....

The second layer to be exposed to the air was guilt and shame. Actually this is not quite true as anxiety was a vein that ran through all these layers continuously. Suddenly, as my anger faded somewhat, I felt guilt and shame in high resolution. Guilt over my anger and just shame for many of the things I had done in my life. I cried and didn't sleep very well in the guilt and shame period. And I'm not typically a crier. I felt sorry for myself, my anger, my guilt, my shame, my anxiety, my half lived life. This lasted quite awhile and there is a residual guilt/shame program running even now. I just had a friend ask me why I am always so self deprecating. I just laughed and replied, 'habit.'

The third layer was depression with, of course, lovely themes of anxiety intermingled. This one lasted a long time and is probably the most powerful,deepest maladaptive layer. Mixed with the depression was indifference. As anxiety lessened in this period, indifference grew, and I think the indifference was depression's last hurrah. There were several deaths in my immediate family at the end of the third year post-looking that amped the depression to another level.

Now it feels that the depression epoch is waning after four years and a new layer has been exposed. I was reading a work by one of my favorite psychologists, John Gottman, a marriage and family (relationship) expert. He claimed, persuasively, that contempt was one of the most toxic emotions and attitudes in a relationship. He claimed that not many relationships, both intimate and casual can survive in an atmosphere of contempt, that contempt was the death knell in a relationship. This insight bore straight into my life and suddenly I began to see all the ways I was contemptuous. All the relationships where I felt the failings were the fault of the other party were now seen in the light of my contempt, sometimes subtle, but often there in the background. Fortunately the shame/guilt thing is mostly over and I can look at this objectively. It's just another layer I can look at, for what it is and expose it to the beam of my attention. I am better at catching it when it arises and simply turning attention away to some middle ground of non-judgment and fairness.

There are many other layers running through my maladaptive personality that have seen the light of day only to submerge again into the strata....compulsion and gluttony to name a few. I imagine I will continue to overturn new layers and subprograms running in the background which in turn will be seen for what they are. I'm curious about what will fill the void left by these strata. So far it's simply life flowing through less encumbered, I suppose.

When you say contempt for others, how do you mean? I think I have the some kind of contempt. Like contempt for others who are usually very happy and haven't suffered much. It's really quite bitter and why I prefer to be alone. It's not easy to be around people who are really happy and you just don't feel it and can't get excited.

Yes, that could be contempt.....what I feel is very subtle and was covered up by the fear of life. I guess I needed to feel contempt in order to erect a defense or barrier against others. I needed to feel better than them in some way. Contempt seems to be a false elevation of your status as compared to another. This subtle thread was covered over by fear, anxiety and depression. I guess it was a secondary defense that came out when others failed, or perhaps it fueled anger. I just don't need it anymore and it is eroding relationships and keeping me apart from others.

I think we have to trust our natural intelligence to reveal the next step or the next thing to focus our attention on. We look where we need to.

I have a similar unfolding of this process kind of like layers as you say in the beginning many emotions all mixed together and explosive and now more subtle and less often.. I feel your description will be very helpful to everyone in recovery because recovery is stormy and boring and unpredictable etc... it needs patience and the practice of focused attention to see us through. I notice as my own defenses disappear I find I see very obviously huge barriers in practically everyone except small children... thinking what you say about anger and contempt and this is what I feel lies under superficial expressions of happiness. It's pretty terrifying to open that can of worms that has been festering for years so we do our best to create a role that kind of gets us by... Me it was nice, loving, spiritually evolved lady... now I feel kind of dense, nothing, blank... another layer I'm sure ha ha!

Yeah, Maureen, I think these layers of anger and contempt are common and I do see through the veneer in others many times. I'm still working with contempt, but since I have seen it for what it is, it's easier to shift my attention from it. There really is no need to dwell there, right? That's what a choice in attention gives us, the option to move away from these negative states......once seen for what they are.

Not exactly sure what you mean by 'dense' and 'blank', but I think I can relate to that somewhat as well.


That's what a choice in attention gives us, the option to move away from these negative states......once seen for what they are.

I am careful labelling states and emotions as negative or positive. I see a risk that this leads to suppression and self-censoring. If the fear of life is gone, then no internal states or feeling need to be feared or ignored. All can be embraced with curiosity and empathy.

Hi ..when I am writing I put words on certain states which really are impossible to describe. There are so many nuances to this personality ..I thought about this and I guess by dense and blank I don't mean stupid although I have met that layer too often enough but that I don't have my usual responses which is a bit strange and disorienting for awhile but passes. Lately it feels as if new brain cells are being stimulated and new , exciting relevant interests present themselves in my life. The 'void' or 'gap' as described in a lot of spiritual literature is again these old scary words to o express something so simple as me. For a longtime I was mainly concerned with not feeling bad and all these 'negative' emotions. I did see I have a choice to dwell there or not so a natural inclination was to move my attention to my breathing or to a sense of me and calm the energy. This was okay but only useful for a time with certain states. Of course positive feelings I was happy to go along with. This kept me still engaged somehow in managing these states .I see now control over my attention as more like everpresent self reliance in a life without fear..( I have a hard time to express this) but something wants to come to light for me.

Your view of the goal and usefulness of the practice of directed attention is distorted by symptoms of the fear that are still alive in your mind, trying to understand and protect you from beliefs that it has falsely defined to be wrong.

The practice of directed attention has no interest in whether the thoughts declined are good or bad, or in any other form of labeling. Its sole purpose is to strengthen, clarify, and develop your intentional control over your attention.

If you take on this practice it will eventually give you a panoramic view of the objects in your awareness, the skill to understand what, if anything, needs to be done about any of it, and the power of agency over attention that is the essence of self-reliance.

as a little add on..I understand labeling or judging any sensation emotional or physical as negative or positive ,good or bad is arising from the fear...however when you are in it these sensations have an intensity which pull our attention and all the symptoms during the recovery relate to some painful state reinforced by the fear of life still present in the mind. it seems naturally I would use this skill to move my attention to my breath for example not as an avoidance of anything but a skillful way of moving my attention elsewhere. for me the development of this skill goes hand in hand with my recovery.. and since I've done the looking which is moving my attention to the feeling of being me I already sow the seeds of self reliance.

John, your comment confuses me. You repeat in other words what I wrote above, that it: is not useful to label experience with good or bad, with the intent of using focused attention to eliminate the bad ones.

I was merely agreeing with you and adding a little more development. Good work, Cytex


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