“Why me? Why does this always happen to me?” “Am I cursed with bad luck?” These are some of the questions we ask in crisis. In moments of crisis, a belief arises in most of us that we will somehow be rescued out of dire circumstances- that at the precipice of despair we will be restored to our ordinary way of living, free of distress and uncertainty. This belief is known as “delusions of reprieve”, a state expanded by founder of logotherapy and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Frankl discovered that the victims who relied on seeking an external means to persevere, that an environmental change would pull them out of their circumstances, tended to lose hope and crumble under captivity of prison life. On the other hand, those who had given up on the delusion of being rescued and developed meaning and purpose to their external circumstances persisted through the harsh realities of camp life while improving their mental and physical health. Hence, they had a reason to go on and it didn’t rely on the situations around them. Their reason to continue resided on the meaning they placed on what was occurring, not on the circumstances themselves. This theory tells us that we are more than just reactors held captive to our circumstances- that in between our circumstances and our reactions there is a vast space in which we have the freedom to choose how we want to proceed.
Addiction is a great oppressor. It has the capacity to enslave and ultimately destroy the individual and family. No one dealing with an addiction ever planned it this way- it is not something the individual has devised, it is a condition that has happened to them. Therefore, the addicted individual who has made a decision to stop using must abandon the delusion of reprieve. He must let go of any thought that somehow he will be magically rescued or that his addiction will dissipate if one day all the right external circumstances are present. He must caution against the illusional traps of having “all his ducks in a row.” The appropriate mindset is that his will to recover, the will to live, depends only on the purpose and meaning he places on the battle. This battle is won daily upon adapting the mindset that ‘Addiction is not something I created, but something that has happened to me.’ Success in recovery highly depends on how he responds to his condition. If his question has always been “why am I an addict?” or why is this happening to me?”, he must responsibly put away such meaningless questions that only lead to rumination and added hopelessness. He must replace these questions with ones like “I am addicted, how do I respond?” or “what am I going to do about this condition that has been given to me?” Developing such a mindset creates a purposeful life in which the person is able to thrive and persist through any circumstance. The individual is responsible for answering his condition through the meaning and purpose he places on his life.
In summary, to survive and ultimately thrive through any addiction, the affected person will:
- Destroy any delusion of reprieve that he will magically be rescued of his condition by an external source.
- Discard the whys. He will stop asking why he has become addicted and begin responding to the “what are you going to do about your addiction?”
- Acquire meaning and purpose of his addiction. Addiction paves way for opportunity of recovery where the most important changes within ourselves are able to take place. As I once heard from a person in recovery, “it was through my addiction that I learned to be grateful for the little things.”
Making the shift of establishing a mindset of personal meaning is a daily practice. Begin now, whether you are struggling with a substance, a behavior, or a person by focusing on your meaning of the battle and understand recovery mostly depends on how you decide to live out that meaning.
Irving Cabarcas, LMHC, MCAP, ICADC