Very often, recovery is like peeling an onion. 

And not just because there’s a lot of crying involved. 

We peel a layer— only to find a layer underneath that one. 

Then another. And another. 

We keep peeling and peeling, thinking that after we get through THIS layer, we MIGHT have arrived at the issue at the core of our recovery…only to find that, nope, it’s another layer. 

We peel and peel, and eventually we can’t help but wonder: is this whole thing— my depression, my trauma, my addiction— just layer after layer? Is there not something at the core of all of this? 

Peeling the recovery onion, layer by layer, is frustrating. 

It’s time consuming. It takes a maddening amount of patience. 

The truth is, we’re never quite sure when when we’re gonna come to the core of our depression, our trauma, our addiction. 

The more complicated truth is, there may not be one “core.” 

There may be multiple cores. Multiple hearts. Multiple vortexes. 

As a therapist, I’m a trauma specialist. I’ve heard it opined that trauma is often at the “core” of depression, or especially addiction. 

I think trauma can often be one of the “core” issues of depression and addiction— but I also think that trauma can also be just one of the layers. 

Yeah. Core issues can also be layer issues. 

You may peel back a layer of your depression or addiction, find a layer of trauma, deal with it, process it…and then find that, while that layer of trauma was central to what you were feeling and dealing with, it too was another layer on top of yet another core issue. 

Often when we’re peeling the recovery “onion,” we find depression, addiction, and trauma, in layer after layer, all the way down. 

That’s why I think it’s a mistake to think that we’re peeling away layer after layer, looking for that one “core” issue. 

I think looking for that one issue over time can get exhausting and demoralizing— and, for all we know, it might be impossible to really know if we really HAVE gotten to the “core” issue when we get there…or if it’s just another layer. 

As we peel the recovery “onion,” it’s really important to remember that recovery work is all about restoring our safety and functionality. Improving our daily quality of life. 

Peeling layer after layer, frantically trying to get at the core issue, might feel instinctively “right”— but it might also create unsustainable pressure and chaos in our everyday life. 

If doing recovery work is more destabilizing than stabilizing, it’s not working. We need to push pause and reevaluate. 

Yeah, we often need to keep peeling the recovery “onion.” The alternative to recovery is very often not sustainable or survivable. 

But we also need to substantively deal with each layer as we peel it. 

We can’t just go ripping emotional and behavioral layers off of our recovery “onion”, hoping that we hit that “core” issue before the layers we’re stripping off catch up with us. 

As you peel the recovery “onion,” and as you discover layer after layer of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and memories, I want you to deal with each layer as you peel it— with patience, with compassion, with skill. 

Don’t discard those layers you’re peeling— until it’s time to discard them. 

Until you’ve honored and processed them. 

Yes, we want to keep peeling. We often need to keep peeling. As I say, the alternative doesn’t work— that’s why we’re in recovery in the first place. 

That’s why you’re reading this. 

But don’t get obsessed with hitting that “core” issue. 

Give each layer its due. 

Each layer of the recovery “onion” has a story to tell. And we need to listen to it, process it, internalize it. 

I know. It’s complicated. It’s complicated for me, too. 

But all we can do is what we can do: honor what we’re scraping up, peeling off, learning, realizing, remembering…today. 

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