FEATURE STORY: Is it odd or is it God… or is it repetition compulsion?

Facing a career choice, I consulted my sponsor, a man wise in the ways of recovery.  One of the hallmarks of his recovery is that he faces problems rather than denying or ignoring them.  This is a quality I’m sure I need more of, so I seek his advice regularly and take it seriously.   The dilemma I described to my sponsor’s was a choice between a type of job I thought highly desirable, but where I couldn’t get any offers, and a somewhat less desirable job, but toward which the universe seemed to be steering me.  I had received an offer for this latter type of position through a remarkable series of coincidences and I said to my sponsor, “is it odd or is it God?” as a way of saying, “maybe I should just go with the flow”.

Having listened to my description of both job types, my sponsor’s noted that this latter position, the one where the universe seemed to be steering me, had much in common with other jobs I had had in the past.  Specifically, it involved an important “fix it” component.  In a previous career, in a different industry, I had been a fix it guy, not a surprising result given the codependent ways I had learned in my alcoholic family of origin.  The point he was making, as I understand it, is that the crazy, repetitive patterns that we often find ourselves in, can look like a remarkable series of coincidences, but in fact are orchestrated by us, a phenomenon sometimes described as repetition compulsion.

I had noted this quality of making the same mistakes over and over in both my life and the lives of those around me – trusting people who do not deserve trust; getting involved with women who have the worst qualities of my mother; taking on too much responsibility, especially responsibility that doesn’t really belong to me; trying to “fix” things when I have neither a mandate nor the power to do so; seeking safety in isolation; etc!  My therapist at the time described this as “repetition compulsion” and described the theory as being that we recreate old trauma as a way to resolve it in the present.  If I can change these women who are like my mother, and get them to love me, then somehow I will have resolved the old maternal abandonment issue still simmering in my soul.  If I can fix these dysfunctional situations I get involved with today, then somehow I will have fixed the old family dysfunction in which I was raised.

I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one who falls into this trap.  In fact, the phenomenon of recreating ancient trauma in our current lives is so common that both Freud and ancient Tibetan traditions have written about it.  An Autobiography in Five Chapters is, in my view, a story about this issue, finally resolved in chapter 5 (see http://kibrahacha.com/poetry/collection/11.htm).

So, what I believe my sponsor was saying is that, “it may be God, or it may be you, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference”.  Was I just finding my way into another “fix it” situation or was I getting with the flow of the universe?  I thought this a profound insight and one worth sharing.  I can’t simply say “oh, that’s God working in my life” and pretend I’m resolved of responsibility.  I have no doubt that God is working in my life, but so is the old craziness of my addictions and codependence, despite many years of recovery, and I don’t believe God is codependent enough to always keep me out of trouble.  I’ve got to look at the situation squarely, acknowledge my motives, and talk to my sponsor! – Don M.

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