The Adolescent Brain Meets Tradition
Image by HaPe_Gera via Flickr
Recovery means more than just eliminating drugs and alcohol. It also means discovering new ways to cope with the feelings you were running from when you used. Troubled home life? Run. Problems at school? Run. I’m not talking about literally running, either; I’m talking about cloaking the feelings of loss and abandonment in the toxic blanket of drugs and alcohol in an attempt to mute the pain. As human beings, we need to be nurtured, loved, supported and fed, and we naturally assume we will get all of this from our parents. Sometimes, we don’t, and when that happens, we end up attempting to regulate our wavering emotions via unhealthy means. Typically, it’s the misuse of food, sex, obsessive behavior, porn, video games, and drugs and alcohol acting as the bill of fare. When these are the only tools we have in terms of managing our difficulties, the truth of what we’re running from remains untouched. Through the 12 steps, therapy, meditation, and spiritual practice, we are presented with various ways in which we can cope with tough feelings. Not every avenue of exploration will fit, but the more options we have, the better!
I recently ran across an interesting article in Counselor Magazine, talking about teens’ ability to relate socially and emotionally in the typical AA meeting and how their cognitive development may not allow them to truly grasp the spiritual aspect of the program. While adults are more settled in the possibility of a spiritual ideology, adolescents are more or less in the highly developmental stage of questioning the existence of God and realistic nature of spirituality itself. Also noted in this article is the difficulty teens may have relating to their fellow alcoholics due to the broad difference in age, which is an average of 48, according to aa.org.
So, how can we help teens gain a better grasp on a spiritual path when the exact nature of their development is such that this understanding is still in evolvingt? How can we address the need to ask for help and encourage the necessity to rely on others when developmentally, the tendency is to believe in self-reliance? Young people’s AA is a great beginning, as it allows for teens to find some common ground in recovery, providing a regular group of like-minded people seeking a similar solution. Still, it isn’t the only solution. Adolescence is a time when the religious traditions normative in early childhood are becoming questionable. Part of this is the natural, developmental proclivity toward being anti-authority and of course being inherently rebellious. Part of it is the curious, often exotic thought processes which are part and parcel to their emotional development. If we address recovery with rigidity: “you must believe/submit” rather than encourage the broader concept of “your own understanding,” we risk alienation and ultimately steer teens away from recovery. Instead, encouraging discovery of their own beliefs and supporting their curiosity for meditation, Eastern practices, or any other place where their personal search might take them is highly beneficial.
Remember, you were a teen once too!