Addiction pertains to all of us. Though the problem may not be substances or compulsions, the condition of addiction is universal and we all experience it to some degree. Every time we turn away from what is true, what is good, what is just, what is virtuous- we take another “hit” in favor of what seems gratifying. While it may seem harmless-to look away or evade your responsibility-it erodes the soul and gradually removes us from our nature of loving, caring, feeling, uniting, connecting, etc. Being unable to face the reality that we are living in contrary to our nature, we continue to turn away, drifting further into pleasures and distractions until anxiety, or depression, or crisis signals us to take action. Recovery is a return to the fundamental aspects of being a person… it is the state of answering life’s questions with action of what is good for the world and what is my responsibility in this given moment. Recovery limits or all together turns away from distractions and pleasures that get in the way of this responsibility.
I often emphasize the present moment as a way to get clients away from the worries of tomorrow and the misfortunes of yesterday. However, sometimes there’s too much pain in the present to tell anyone to be mindful of the “now.” Sometimes, there’s too much pain to paint anyone a pretty picture… it invalidates the experience and you render yourself useless no matter how good your intentions may be. Any variation of getting people to look on the bright side of their circumstances can broaden the gap of what stands between their surrounding darkness and hope.
A person who has lost the will to live cannot be coerced to reframe or alter the narrative of the crisis. The crisis, be it the loss of freedom, a child, an illness, or abuse, is remedied through a rigorous validation and honesty. Both the sufferer and helper must bring forth an honesty of the situation that conveys the present reality for what it is- painful and seemingly intolerable. Yet, the future must always be accounted for with just as much honesty and responsibility as the present. While the moment may prove harsh, the future provides an infinite amount of possibilities-hope reigns abundantly in the future- hope of less pain and more peace, hope of reconciling the worst acts, the healing of deep wounds, the regaining of freedom, and the refining of one’s character made possible by difficult times.
“I know you won’t understand but in my lifetime I’ve seen the most beautiful thing life has to offer. I’ve seen the priceless battle of broken people creatively changing and overcoming toxic patterns. So beautiful and it’s costs me nothing” -Unknown
They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I believe everyone we encounter is our greatest teacher. The world serves as a mirror in which through experiences and interactions we learn more about the undesirable parts of ourselves we tend to overlook. The people we dislike or disagree with often reveal the characteristics within us we need to change. I’ve often become easily hurt at the indifference and aloofness of others, later taking an honest inventory of my own indifferences, that fearful part that would rather avoid social responsibility. There are people who just won’t change, a world that just won’t relent, and many breaks we just can’t catch… and yet they are all so charitable in giving us the knowledge of what needs to change within us. The world is a vast educational platform and its people are the mentors by which we discover who we want or don’t want to be. Most of us have been hurt beyond reconciliation by the people we love most. But if there’s any good that comes of it, may it be discovering parts of ourselves in others that we vow to change and never repeat.
What makes anything beautiful, what gives it life, is the experience it has had. We stare at a certain painting and become mesmerized by something unexplainable-there is an emotion, a life, a story that it has lived. This is the essence of all things worthwhile. They are neither fabricated or desired. Instead, these are the things that preserve us and provides a deeper connection to ourselves and the world around us. To be fully in the moment entails a full participation and realization of the experience. Experiencing moments where we are submerged in what’s occurring is the lifeblood of humanity. A bellyaching laugh, a melancholic embrace, a joyful victory, an attentive posture-all provide the opportunity to make the most of our lives.
Without the experience of participating in the moment, we lose an essential part of ourselves-a missing part that becomes excruciating to live with. Before we turn to medicine to alleviate our instabilities and sorrows, let’s ask ourselves how much are we participating in the joy of living, and how much are we avoiding it through diluted means of connecting? An emoji can never take the place of seeing a beautiful face smile. An “lol” cannot doesn’t come close to shared laughter around a table of friends. And words types across a screen can never replace an invaluable embrace of a loved one in distress. What makes anything beautiful is the loyal commitment to strive to engage in life as much as possible.
Often, in times of solitude and reflection I think about past impactful events of my career as a counselor. My mind wanders through the corridors of a crisis unit where the majority of our patients had a history of multiple suicide attempts. There were people there who had experienced the worst kinds of acts-abuse on every level, witnessing first hand tragic losses of close friends and family, and sudden abrupt life changes such as financial loss and divorce. Many of the people I encountered possessed a common characteristic- they were immobilized by their pain and were unable to focus on anything outside of the now prevailing emptiness that pervaded their lives. Any forms of therapeutic interventions or words of encouragement were lost in the void. One thing I came to understand: depression at its peak can paralyze a person, both on the physical and cognitive levels. Remedying emptiness and difficulty then requires more than persuasion of changing perspective or acquiring tools to cope- it requires a journey further into the experience of despair where light is found through, not away, from the problem.
Healing takes place when we are able to sit with reality as it is. When pain is immense it produces a numbness that a person may not even be aware of how they are feeling. A process of uncovering emotions through validation and recognition of feelings provides us with a sense of belonging and security. Identifying feelings gives a person the ability of observing their lives from a higher perspective. The act of observing provides a space between experiencing pain and “paralysis” where finding ways to persevere becomes possible. The sufferer finds freedom in understanding that although they are in emotional pain, they are also capable of observing and becoming participants of their own experience. People gradually move away from the all consuming thought “I’m in pain” to “I am aware, this is happening to me.”
Difficulties can be the means by which we discard what matters most. All one needs to ask to reach an effective conclusion is “what is this difficulty teaching me?” Perhaps the things we placed so much time and value on really didn’t hold any weight in our crisis. Sometimes, it takes a significant life event to learn that our time and energy was spent on falsehoods that contributed greatly to the nagging pangs of emptiness. The moments of crisis are the opportunities by which we get in contact with reality- we discard the fake and commit our lives to what is true. This is evident in people who have experienced and overcome crisis. They emanate authenticity and have a zero tolerance for anything that portrays hypocrisy and deception. These people have learned the principle of impermanence- that things and people are unpredictable and fleeting. In this, there is great freedom.
It is sometimes a game changer when we realize that tragedy is tragedy only when it manifests itself in our lives. However, tragedy occurs daily. I cannot think of a single individual who has not experienced the death of a loved one or not experienced a loss of some kind. Pain and emptiness may initially draw us more inwardly, but can also give us the chance to notice that difficulty and feelings of emptiness are universal. On some level, we have all experienced a loss and many have been able to overcome the resulting darkness and go on to live healthy and productive lives. If we occasionally gaze our eyes outwardly during crisis, we’ll find the comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and we will eventually get through it.
If you want to learn about human behavior, don’t take a course on psychology. Rather, visit a nearby playground and observe the children play a while. There you will encounter every facet of humanity and you will learn how to resolve most of your present dilemmas. After all, none of us ever really leave the playground.