Life, Problems, Recovery

- October 3, 2011

"These wishes are life-sustaining if satisfied in a balanced, vital, and healthy manner. They also might prove to be the basis for problems if they are not carefully monitored..."


In Santa Fe some years ago I attended a day-long conference with Matthew Fox, part of which was about substance abuse and recovery. Before Fox talked of these matters, he explained that human nature is so constituted that we have three drives, wishes, or instincts in us as natural, human creatures.  These wishes are life-sustaining if satisfied in a balanced, vital, and healthy manner.  They also might prove to be the basis for problems if they are not carefully monitored.

Here is my gloss on Fox's ideas.

I wish for conviviality, sociability !  “To party, or not to party?  That is the question.”   People generally do not like to be alone, and the enthusiastic model of getting into company is the “social gathering, the party”.

I wish for self-care.  If I feel hurt, wounded or distressed from habits, old wounds, or repression --- or just a bad cold, I try out something to feel better.

I wish to transcend!  I get bored from just working every day (I've had a rough day).  I try out something to have a lot fun, thrills, excitement. These wishes are natural, vital  motives that portend healthy life. To satisfy them is to be optimistic at least, and even, one could say, impassioned. There are countless hale and hearty, even lusty (no pun intended) ways to satisfy these needs, and make these wishes come true. 

In the case of need/wish  # 2: going to the gym, dieting or for serious issues, seeing a doctor, or a counselor, or taking something OTC. For wish # 1, to party, consult Martha Stewart.  For wish # 3 --- hiking, rock climbing, swimming, sky diving, taking a course at school, dating, --- healthy things.


As mentioned above, these wishes can get out of hand.  If one exaggerates gratification, this goes by the term ”abuse”.  My little example to illustrate the difference between abuse and addiction/dependence goes like this:  if I am watching my diet, but grab a cone of ice cream on lunch break --- no big deal. But suppose I ride by the ice cream parlor at the end of my work day, and run in for another quick cone, and also give into the urge and buy 1.5 quart of my favorite flavor.  That evening, I down the whole thing --- this is an incident of “abuse”.   Now, if I then get the habit for 1.5 quart of ice cream night after night and endure the damaging side effects ---- this is looking like “dependence”.
If alcohol is the substance in question, the “dependence / addiction” is likely to develop as I progress to heavy, habitual, automatic drinking.  The matter of examining motives or forces resulting in dependence or abuse is a topic unto itself, and beyond the scope of this article.

Returning to the issues of abuse and addiction in themselves: I could “blow it, lose it”, and in a big way, thinking that lots and lots of alcohol or drugs will really make my wishes come true.  To gorge is to be caught in the thrall of the “pleasure principle” --- which may be so distressing as to demoralize the healthy draw to party, to relieve distress, and to seek  healthy excitement.  On the other hand, to satisfy the wishes in a balanced way is to align with the “reality principle”, that is, common sense awareness of positive and negative consequences of choices.


I once heard a valuable way to figure out if there is substance abuse or dependency --- the question is not so much one of labels.  Am I an addict, a drunk?  Is my drinking getting out of hand?   The better question is “Am I having problems based on my style and quantity of consumption?”
What is to be done?  Depending on level of problems, to undertake recover, realization and admission of trouble is the first step (in that proverbial journey of a 1,000 miles).  Next comes the choice of the outcomes and reforms desired. Clinical therapy has several time frames. For the abuser of alcohol it might be giving up alcohol or learning to drink moderately.  The US Department of Agriculture, andthe US Department of Health and Human Services put out that moderate alcohol use is 1 drink for women; 2 drinks for men.

For the addicted style drinker, what do think is the solution?  If a person is in the early stages of problem drinking she may doubt the problem is so big. “Should I attempt to learn to drink moderately?” Try doing that.  This may work.  But if a person ends up relapsing consistently to heavy, toxic amounts of alcohol, the recommendation is to commit to abstinence --- and if one undertakes to get better, more shall surely be revealed.

As for street or illegal drugs, there is no question of light/moderate use, just on the basis of the illegality of the matter. I know that the jury is out, and then sometimes in, and then out again regarding legal cannabis, and medical cannabis.  Regarding abuse of one's prescription medication to satisfy the wishes, would you not say that the solution to avoiding problems is right on the label? --- “Take as directed”.

The recovery and methods of therapy will differ from person to person, and may be extensive or short-term.  There are literally countless processes of recovery, many even self-induced by a person's soul searching, contact with mentors, etc. In all cases the hoped for result is reform of habits and thinking, awakening and choosing health --- a better life style.

The clinical therapy session is called by many a “dose” of treatment. I encourage client's to take with them, for home work, four basic ingredients, four “doses” of self-care, self treatment that can be administered by one's self.

Four Ingredients of Recovery

Commitment and Declaration: Repeat to myself that I have chosen to cross the threshold toward  my recovery and my health. I have heard  the call to the adventure of getting better.  Everything is going to change from here on out,  and I can also get the help of counseling,  recovery meetings, family and friends.

Motivation: I then keep telling myself the reasons and motives for my major life change. I do this over and over.  It is good to keep a gratitude list of new and healthy things happening in my life.

Daily Programs and Habits of Self-Care / Self Treatment: I have new recovery habits such as repeating my commitment and motives to myself; I study human growth and potential; I have non-alcoholic drinks around the house; I talk to people who help me relax and  stay clean and sober; I take walks, hike or go to the gym; I read books that help me; I meditate;  I practice stress relief like breathing exercises, or isometrics (tense/release), "self-suggestion" or "autosuggestion"; I practice positive self talk and encourage myself. I avoid people, places, things, and thinking that have no good recovery in them.  I associate with alert, positive people.

Mission For my Life and Deeper Motivation:  Who can I now become? What gifts can I give to my people and my world?   Now that my life is not being drained by anxiety and substance abuse, what am I going to do with all this new, healthy get-up-and-go?   I can express my “vision of service” going forward, and my “mission of service” for my benefit and the benefit of others, --- family and friends, the world at large.  Mission means the work I do and choices I make so my vision comes to reality. [The Path by Laurie Beth Jones].

This then is a brief introduction to matters that warrant much more discussion, and I hope what I have offered here enkindle more thought.

Here are several sage remarks --- bread for the journey.

“I am not my mistakes. I am my possibilites.”

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
- Eleanor Roosevelt 1960

“When I came to understand that there are mythic patterns in all our lives, I knew that all of us, often unbeknownst to ourselves, are engaged in a drama of soul which we were told was reserved for gods,
heroes, and saints."
- Deena Metzger, “Miracle at Canyon de Chelly”

“I asked myself, “What is the myth you are living?” and found that I did not know. So I took it upon myself to get to know “my myth”, and I regarded this as the task of tasks. I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.”
- C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung

“Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be, is made up of a single moment – the moment in which a man [or woman] finds out, once and for all, who he is.” 
- Jorge Luis Borges

Study your habits, for they will become your character. Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny!

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”
- Helen Keller

Man is not disturbed by events, but by the view he takes of them.
- Epictetus

“Society is fiercely against anyone who tries to regain the natural independence of his mind.”
- R. W. Emerson.

“When my inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of myself as m fate.”
- C.G. Jung

“Become such as you are, having learned what that is.”
- Pindar

“There is no soul so weak that it cannot acquire an absolute power over the passions.”
- Rene Descarte