In the past eighteen months, everyone has been through an incredibly complex time as our usual ways of doing life and relating to others have changed – very often, radically! As I thought about and lived through these events and experiences, I found myself thinking about two realities – first, our need for places to belong or our VILLAGES, and second, the power of AFFIRMING. I would like to reflect on both of these things which I see as very important today and in trying to move forward.
I want to first look at the important VILLAGES in our lives. By “Villages,” I mean the different groups to which we belong. I believe these have become even more important in the past year because there has been so much disruption and disconnection in our lives. In looking at important Villages and as a recovering addict, I have found my 12 Step group to be an even more important Village in my recovery. The group has survived through the technology of Zoom. I also have become aware that meeting by Zoom is not the same as meeting in person but it has been better than nothing.
Our names for Villages are communities, groups or nations to which we belong and are very meaningful to us in our lives. These can be large in number like a Church community, a neighborhood group or an alum group, to name a few examples. They can also be small in number – like a family or friendship, the 12 Step group to which I belong or a small men’s group that I have been part of for over thirty-five years. Numbers have nothing to do with the significance of a group in our lives! What is vitally important in these Villages is the ability to feel we belong and, to some degree, are known. Remember the atmosphere of the TV show Cheers? Everyone knew each other’s name. That was a Village of those people!
Our names for Villages are communities, groups or nations to which we belong and are very meaningful to us in our lives.Villages can also give us a foundation from which to branch out and do things that are important to us as well as being able to return and share what happened or didn’t happen. It is like the roots of a tree which go deeper into the soil, allowing the branches to reach out and extend, and not fall over in a windstorm. Someone pointed out to me that we are able to see the extent of the roots of the tree when we see how extended the branches are. I love that image for our Villages as our Villages provide us with roots!
Another dimension of our Villages that is more challenging is the awareness that a Village to which we belong becomes no longer life-giving for us and does not provide us with a safe environment. At times, we outgrow the Villages that have been important to us, and we need to “divorce” from an individual or a group. That can be very difficult on everyone! A number of years ago, I made a painful decision to leave a community, which was a very important Village in my life. I felt kind of naked as I stepped out of this Village, not exactly sure where I was headed or where I would end up. As I left and tried to adjust to this new version of myself, I fortunately found new Villages which helped and supported me. It is very difficult to live without at least a few Villages!
A couple of questions for you to consider: How many Villages do you belong to these days? What are they?
The other area that I have found that is important in relation to the Villages to which we belong is AFFIRMATION. I see affirmation as a kind of three-legged table, and if one of the legs is missing, the table collapses. I see the three legs of Affirmation to be: Affirming others, being affirmed by others, and affirming ourselves. I believe that we need all three. If we are part of a Village, where one of these is not taking place, it might be time to consider whether it is good for us to continue in this group.
What are some of the aspects, then, of Affirmation? A number of qualities come to mind:
- Listening: Taking the time to be attentive and present to others and oneself.
- Encouraging: Offering support around issues that might be challenging.
- Helping others and oneself to leave behind more negative messages and become more positive.
- Being open to receiving affirmation from others and oneself.
- Expressing gratitude to others for what they have given.
- Lastly, showing respect to others and to oneself.
I am sure that there are other qualities also and I offer these as a way to name some of the important areas which I have found as ways of expressing and receiving affirmation. Do you see any others?
I see five important areas as we reflect upon giving and receiving affirmation. These are our bodies, our minds, or feelings, our spirituality and out gifts and talents. Let me now share a few things about each of these important areas in which each of us is as a person.
In regard to the Affirmation of our bodies, there are four important ways to affirm our bodies. The first of these is being aware of how much good sleep we are experiencing each evening – are we getting sound and renewing sleep? I found a number of years ago through my wife’s feedback that I would stop breathing during the night. I went to see a doctor and had a sleep study and learned I was waking up some forty times an hour. I have been using a CPAP machine since and that has made a difference in my sleeping.
A second dimension is the kind of food we are eating – is it junk food or healthy food? Thirdly, are we are getting any kind of regular physical exercise? Are we getting off the couch? Fourthly, are we taking advantage of regular consultations with health care professionals about our bodies? I have been committed to regular massages as well as Pilates.
How do you affirm your body? What kind of messages do you give yourself in relation to your body – positive? Or negative? These kind of messages make a difference. Another aspect is an awareness of what we say to others about their body? Do we give uplifting and supportive messages, or do we send messages that might be more of a put down?
A key facet of affirming our minds – again our own as well as others – is a commitment to learning. This is important no matter how young or old we are. I believe that there is a crisis here today as many people have stopped learning or are frozen in their perceptions of life. Besides reading books and newspapers – like The Phoenix Spirit – and listening to podcasts and attending lectures, I think it is vitally important that we be willing to engage in dialogues with other adults. This is true both of people who agree with us as well as those who might think differently. I believe learning with others in not trying to convert them to our views. It is engaging with others when there is a desire to learn with and from others. To affirm our minds is to commit to be a life-long learner!
The next area is about affirming feelings. We are all in need of safe places in order to become aware of what we are feeling, as well as having the opportunity to express our feelings. This is especially true when we are not aware of what we are feeling or when the feelings we have are painful and could be explosive. I believe that this is especially often true of men like myself who have not always been encouraged to be in touch with what we are feeling and to express our feelings. I believe it is important for both men and women to have the safety to explore our feelings without being judged as well as unpack the messages we have received about our feelings. An especially deep experience for me took place when I was in sixth grade and learned that my grandmother had died. I began to cry, and I can remember my aunt saying, “Nana wouldn’t want you to cry.” I recall turning off my tears and I have been challenged over the years to find my tears. I need encouragement to feel it is OK to cry and I suspect many of us need encouragement to feel and express the feelings that are present. This is really at the heart of affirming feelings – both those of others as well as our own.
I see also that our Villages can be very important in helping us to identify our gifts and talents that we often do not seeThe fourth area of Affirmation is our spirituality. This area deals with what gives meaning and purpose to our lives as well as those realities that we value and believe in. This is a very challenging area these days as there are often huge divisions within people of the same belief systems – like between conservative, more traditional people, and those who are more liberal and less orthodox. There are also many people for whom Church membership is no longer a given and part of their spirituality. For the first time, fewer people belong to a Church than do.
Having been raised in a Church – the Catholic Church – I am aware of the many messages many of us grew up with. We are now re-looking at those messages, beliefs and practices. If a person feels the need to look at their participation in a Church and their beliefs, I believe it vitally important that the person has a Village where they can look at these issues without fear of judgment and condemnation. I see an important aspect of spirituality is having others to walk and journey with. Spirituality for me is more than just me! How about you?
The last area of Affirmation I would like to mention revolves around the gifts and talents each of us has been given. Our gifts vary and I believe everyone is a gifted person with talents to share. A challenge facing each of us is finding ways to give back in service of others. In relation to the 12 Steps, I see this being of service to others as an important aspect of that Step.
Recovery is not something that I only work at for myself; it is also learning to think beyond myself to others. Recovery is more than just staying sober! I see also that our Villages can be very important in helping us to identify our gifts and talents that we often do not see. I have been blessed with people who have seen gifts I had that I didn’t see and they called these forth from within me. Another aspect of Affirmation is calling forth the gifts and talents that we see in them that they might not see as well as supporting them in sharing their gifts and talents. I also see this as an important area in looking at what do we want to do with the rest of our lives. I believe the most important part of our lives is yet to come and how do we want to use our gifts and talents in service of others as well as learning to be accepting of our lives with our achievements as well as mistakes and limitations.
This, then, brings to a close my reflections on these two very important topics, which I believe travel together and go hand-in-hand – belonging to Villages, as well as affirming others and ourselves and as receiving the affirmation of others. As I said at the beginning, this is especially true as we have lived through a colossal time of disconnection and re-definition. We are facing again the question of how to be close and personal with one another after being distant. As John Donne once (language changed to be more inclusive), “No one is an island!” Or to state it differently: All of us need Villages where we feel a sense of belonging and can experience Affirmation. I sincerely hope that you each have at least one Village where you belong and experience Affirmation.
Mark T. Scannell is a veteran 12 Stepper who believes that communities or Villages are essential in helping people recover from our addictions. His most recent book – The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm – explores this theme.
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Last Updated on July 14, 2021