‘Stronghold’ is a term I’ve often heard used to describe patterns of thought and/or behaviour that are particularly difficult to access or change.

To me, it is like having a fortress somewhere deep in our psyche that holds these patterns and protects them from normal efforts to change or influence.  The walls are so high and so well defended that we are often not even aware of what is being fortressed.

In the darkest dungeons of these fortresses, we tend to keep our oldest and deepest traumas;  The hurts from childhood and the patterns we were roll-modelled in our upbringing.

The fortressed patterns even go beyond the walls and create supplemental patterns of thought and behaviour in our life that support the existence and influence of our strongholds.  In other words, the help us stay sick or become even sicker.  They act like the moat around the fortress.  Helping keep it strong and defended.

From my own life, I can easily see my alcoholism as a stronghold.  One that eventually got broken… at least as far as active drinking went.  In the deep dungeons, I kept the rolemodeling of my alcoholic family members, among many other things I am sure.

But I had no idea that I was learning alcoholic behaviour and thinking.  In fact, it was hidden from me by my professed despising of the behaviour of the alcoholics in my family.  And I did truly despise it.  I remember feeling a sense of security in this aversion to their behaviours, believing that my aversion would not keep me from following a similar path.

This sense of security played the role of one of the supportive patterns of thought that fortified the stronghold.  It was a completely false sense of security.  It was in fact, a diversionary tactic to my alcoholism.

A friend had been abused horribly as a child.  She seldom talks about it, yet the evidence is plain.  She continues to lock the experience in the dungeons.  Her stronghold seems to be self-destructive relationships; poor choices in men, needy friendships, and door-mat family relationships.

She supplements these patterns with achievement in her career.  Rationalizing that she must be ok because she is doing so well in it.  And she is… but only on the surface … and only for now.

Why would anyone want to look in the dungeon, or break the walls of the fortress when they are (over) achieving?

I could go on at length, with example after example, in my life and others’.  It is a pattern I observe again and again.

Why do so few people break down the strongholds in their lives?  In my experience, we are often to afraid or unaware to ever go there.  But for those of us whose lives have either exploded or imploded, we are often faced with nowhere else to go but to deal with the stronghold if we ever want a chance at recovering our lives.

It is often then and only then that we are prepared to unlock the dungeon and deal with that ominous trauma that has been locked away for so long.  And similarly, it is only then that we begin to recognize and become willing to deal with the supportive thoughts and behaviours that keep us sick.

When life blows up, maybe it is time to ask, what stronghold(s) got me here?  What am I avoiding?  What, if I dealt with it, would give me the opportunity to come back better than before I crashed?




About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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21 Responses to Strongholds

  1. Caddo Veil says:

    Nephew, your brilliance (insight and wisdom) astounds me with every post you write. I’d never heard it said so clearly before–that there’s a fortress, and then there’s the moat protecting the fortress. Good grief, no wonder it’s so hard to get out of there! I have to admit, I don’t really want to look anymore–but you’ve shined a light, so I may not be able to “pretend” I can’t see… I think I’m doing really well, but maybe it’s because my life is somewhat circumscribed? God bless you and your family today, dear heart.

    • Chaz says:

      Auntie Caddo…. thanks again for your kind words. These are merely observations and analogies that have occurred to me over the past 10 years or so since this journey began.

      At that point, the walls of my fortress were high and thick. The dungeons were deep. And the moats were filled with a multitude rationalizations and behaviours that protected the fortress of my sick thinking on many levels. I was self-deceived in believing I was open-minded when once in a while, I would let the draw bridge down for a short while or open the gate just a little. This, I thought, was letting the light in. I was kidding myself.

      The fortress had to be smashed! Bright light shone in the dungeons. And the moats had to be drained. A lot of this happened quickly and dramatically over the first few years. Now, the process continues as I discover more remnants and find that myself inadvertently building new fortresses.

      For this reason, I make candor part of my lifestyle. I hope never to close myself in again. I hope never to bury a trauma in a dungeon. I hope never to keep people away and protect my sick thinking or behaving with false coping behaviours.

      Good people in our lives will help us. In fact, even some of the bad people can help us if we are open enough to recognizining the value they can bring… even if they serve only as an example of what not to do.



      • Caddo Veil says:

        Dear Nephew Chaz–there are days when I’d like to invite you for tea so you could just talk and let me soak up your immense wisdom, for such a “sprout”. What I got from your reply was that we “inadvertently” build new fortresses–even as we believe we’ve done major demolition and have changed our ways. Wow–I suspect if I think about this too hard or too much today, I could get depressed (my old default). So instead, I’m just going to give it to God to work out in small pieces–He’s much better at that, than I. And maybe I’ll write a new poem or two–how’s that? Much love to you, your Auntie Caddo!

      • Chaz says:

        Well Caddo… here’s the way I see it…looking at history and organizational behaviour, I find it to be a repetetive cycle that we humans get caught in.

        Its kind of the Citizen Kane Progression as I refer to it. We start out simple, humble, and with pure an noble intent. This usually happens after we have had a major life challenge or catastrophe that we survive. We are open and teachable for a while, then slowly, we often begin to form new attitudes that we settle in… often disguised a an enlightened outlook. This so often happens with great moves of God. People are humbled, then they slowly build an empire out of what God revealed to them. They become closed-minded about new things, thinking God has given them all they need. Is this not a description of the formation of many denominations within Christianity?

        I find I can get caught in this same cycle as an individual if I am not careful. When God humbled me through a set of major calamities, I was so, so, sooooooo teachable immediately after my life was smashed apart. It did not take long before I began to be a little cocky in the new, functioning, God-reliant life. Most of us have a temptation to regain a complacency and subtle sense of pride in where we have arrived at.

        Continual realignment of perspective is essential in my life. Input from others. Rigorous honesty by people who can see what is going on in our lives. This to me is what helps prevent new fortresses from being built. I for one do not want to give back the rescued life I was blessed to receive.

        Thanks for continuing to add to the dialogue Auntie!

  2. Pingback: Strongholds … « My Side of the Street

  3. jeremiahandrews says:

    I wrote a reply to this post on my blog. Come read it …


  4. iamnotshe says:

    Holy smokes. You are incredibly insightful! Dungeons have dragons, that is for sure. But David beat Goliath so there is hope. Denial and suppression are quite common aren’t they? I don’t think you can “tell” someone to look at their spiritual life when they are happily incarcerated, and “seemingly happy with it (aka, doing well at work). It’s great to present your analysis as a “what if”? That way people can chose to stay locked, or say, hmmmmmmmm. Hopefully the hmmmm turns into, “I can try that and see what happens” …

    • Chaz says:

      Hi I Am Not… good point. Most of us do not respond favourably to being told. I can say this as a recovering alcoholic. I needed to draw my conclusions based on what was laid out in front of me or suggested to me. But tell me? It didnt often take. My sick side reflexively rejected it… most of the time anyway. Until I got desperate…. hungry… ravenous for answers. Then and only then was I willing to take any form of input… a suggestion, a command, an analogy, a rule…. even a swift kick…. I would say, “thank you sir, may I have another”. But pre-ready and still sick… nah. The walls were too high.

  5. Debby says:

    It’s amazing what we allow ourselves to settle for. We get comfortable in the rut, even ruts that are harmful and keep others away. It takes courage to break through the familiar for the unknown, even when the unknown has the potential of being our best.

    Thanks for talking about this, Chaz. Another light shining in the darkness gives illumination to truth.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Debby… settle indeed. We make a lifestyle out of it. Many do. Why?, I wonder. Cause its easy, I presume. It requries no energy or pain. In fact, an old friend in early recovery contended that, “we grow at the rate of pain”. It takes none to remain stuck. Yet when we are stuck, we are often stuck in pain…. but at least its familiar. I guess the better eplanation is that it takes enduring an unfamiliar type of pain in order to change. And furthermore, it requires that we provide the energy to put ourselves in pain’s way. We need to sign up for it and most of us are not willing to do that. I wasn’t for the longest time. Not until the pain of my stuck-ness was of such magnitude, I was willing to try a different type of pain. And God was gracious. He paid me some immediate returns for my investment. Life got immediately better. Minutely, but immediately. So I was willing to make a further investment…. and on and on. This to me is part of the discovery of the way out of the fortress and dungeons. Thank God.

      • Debby says:

        You articulated it just right! I’ve seen it in some of our men and they know it though not all can put it to words. As long as they can see it they find the encouragement to live it one more day. Thanks, Chaz.

  6. Heidi says:

    I had all but forgotten that I wrote a poem to my best friend when she started to give me permission to talk about the dark places of my life. It was about a castle and the secret room in a tower that no one had permission to enter. Not very original, I suppose. But for me, it was the beginning of something that was very fearful, yet hopeful. I actually called it The Key. Trust was something that I was not used to granting or experiencing. The Key was a symbolic gesture of the importance of examining my secrets.

    I like this post because I know it contains the truth of most recoveries. Bill says, “The problem is to help them discover a chink in the walls their ego has built, through which the light of reason can shine.” He states this in the 12×12 concerning Step 4. I take this to mean that our strongholds are necessary for our ego to maintain status quo. Of course, this is the exact opposite of doing a Step 4. Ego shattering must happen for us to do a complete Step 4 and 5 and so on…

    It’s not something we look forward to, or even want to do. As you say, “we are often faced with nowhere else to go but to deal with the stronghold if we ever want a chance at recovering our lives.”

    The fellowship of AA gave me the courage and God gave me the wisdom to go ahead with The Step 4, even though I was very fearful of facing my strongholds. I had secrets that I fully intended to take to my grave. It is often those very secrets that become the tipping point in suicide. So in effect, the secrets take us to our grave, instead.

    Thank you for helping us examine our lives by posting this. I’m going to ask myself what I’m protecting today. It bears looking at, doesn’t it. I don’t think we’re ever done with working the program. For me, it’s a way of life that keeps me from returning to my personal dungeon.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Heidi….

      Great points. Ego is one of the frequent coping mechanisms that help us resist examination and change.

      A saying that floats around my AA community is “we are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes”.

      To me this refers to our propensity to put on a tough protective exterior in order to cover up our inner fears and insecurities.

      We act proudly and clutch tightly to whatever small victories, assets, or strengths we feel we have, often fearing that without them we are of little value. How could we be? We have this huge monster in the dungeon we fear facing and hide its existence from everyone including ourselves.

      So unravelling such complexity that took years to build and had been continuously fortified will not happen easily. And we must contribute willingness to the deconstruction. We must be willing to lay down the protective ego (moat) and take direction from the demolition engineer to start knocking the walls down… And hopefully talk the dungeonmaster to let us and others in to visit the monsterous fears and experiences locked down there.

      No wonder this does not happen easily! We need a crew and even then, it is costly and painful. We had trained ourselves for years to avoid it.

      But the cost is not an expenditure. It is an investment. One that pays a return that is vast and can pay lifelong dividends.

      Ciao. Chaz

      • Heidi says:

        OH….I wish I had a way to share that truth with all of the people I love. The cost is not an expenditure but an investment. How true! You’re so right. Great insights here, Chaz.

  7. Troy says:

    Man…you’re blog is an example of why I do this. For that reason I am awarding you with the “Very Inspiring Blogger Award”. You can accept, or do whatever you’d like with it, but mostly wanted you to know I appreciate what you write!

  8. Caddo Veil says:

    Hi Nephew! I just popped by to wish you and your family a most blessed Easter!! Thinking of you and sending prayers and love~~Auntie Caddo

    • Chaz says:

      Thank you Caddo! Havent been by my blog for a bit so I am a little late replying. Trusting you had a good one?

      • Caddo Veil says:

        Nephew, I’ve been so worried about you–everything okay? Easter was different this year–deeper spiritually, harder emotionally. I’m feeling much better today. Hope you and the family are well–look forward to your next post! (Or you’re welcome to email me, if you want to chat with a “stranger” auntie– God bless you big this week! Auntie Caddo

  9. kweenmama says:

    I think this could apply to forgiving as well. Sometimes we put up a fortress to protect us from someone who has hurt us, thus preventing us from forgiving and finding peace. Maybe?

    • Chaz says:

      Hi KM! Thanks for popping in. I’ve been away from the blog for a while… life’s been busy. I think unforgiveness is one of the walls that form the stronghold…. thus protecting the trauma inside and allowing it to stay alive… and grow in fact. In my experience, unforgiveness keeps us in a place of weakness, woundedness, and victimhood. None of which sound too appealing.

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