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Gitter Done: Life, Problems, Recovery and the Choice-Making Process

“I am the emissary bearing the message of heroic transformation.”

Life

In Santa Fe some years ago I attended a day-long conference with Matthew Fox (See http://www.matthewfox.org/ for an overview of Fox’s pedagogy), part of which was about substance abuse and recovery. 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.

  1. 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.’
  2. I wish for self-care. If I feel hurt, wounded or distressed from habits, old wounds, trauma or repression—or just a bad cold—I try out something to feel better.
  3. 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 of fun, thrill and 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 the wish for self-care: going to the gym, dieting, or for serious issues, seeing a doctor, or a counselor, or taking something OTC. For the wish for social interaction: to party, consult Martha Stewart. For the wish for transcendence of the ordinary—hiking, rock climbing, swimming, sky diving, taking a course at school, dating—healthy things.

Problems

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 one 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 one 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 are discussed below as irrational beliefs.

Regarding abuse and addiction in themselves: I could binge 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 exaggerated 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. ( Freud, S. (1984). On Meta Psychology (PFL 11). Retrieved from Wikipedia free Encyclopedia, 36.)

Recovery: A Need for Change

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?” ( A comment made by Wayne Quilico, my first clinical director at La Nueva Vida in Santa Fe, New Mexico.)

What is to be done? Depending on the level of problems, to undertake recovery, realization and admission of trouble is the first step (in that proverbial journey of a thousand miles). Next comes the choice of the outcomes and reforms desired. Clinical therapy results in different outcomes depending on the nature of the problem. For instance, for the abuser of alcohol, the tolerable clinical outcome is learning to drink moderately, and this is confirmed only by no further problematic incidents arising. (The US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Health and Human Services put out that moderate alcohol use is 1 drink/day for women; 2 drinks/day for men.)

For the addicted style drinker, what do you think is the solution? If a person is in the early stages of problem drinking, (s)he 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 really get better, the cure will only be proven in time.

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 lifestyle.

Choice Making

When I worked towards an MA in philosophy at the University of Delaware many years ago, and far, far away from Santa Fe, my thesis advisor, Professor Charles Marler, suggested I take as my subject “Choice Making in the Ethics of John Dewey and St. Thomas Aquinas.” His advice had roots in our two backgrounds. Marler was a Deweyan of the first order of magnitude. My background was full of Roman Catholic education.

Here comes the choice-making topic again, only this time in the context of therapy, psychology and recovery.

Realization and the Adverse Effects of ‘Irrational Beliefs’

Staunchness and steadfastness to behave anew, with the grit and the power of choice making, are the major goals of therapy with regard to a targeted dysfunction. Of course also needed are mental realization (the cognitive) and personal insight and release of pent up toxic emotions (the emotive) associated with a bad habit. But then, in the long run, the proof of successful treatment shows up most obviously in the empirical evidence of change in behavior (the behavioral). For example, a person finally realizes the damage caused by smoking nicotine (the cognitive). She then processes steps to release her emotional attachment to smoking (the emotive). Finally, for instance, she joins a gym, and commits to overall healthy breathing and lungs (the behavioral).

The processes of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, developed in large part by Dr. Albert Ellis) provide the preliminary reformation of the unhealthy, toxic values and thinking. 

REBT practitioners work closely with individuals, seeking to help uncover their individual set of beliefs (attitudes, expectations and personal rules) that frequently lead to emotional distress.
REBT…provides a variety of methods to help people reformulate their dysfunctional beliefs into more sensible, realistic and helpful ones by employing the powerful REBT technique called “disputing.” Ultimately, REBT helps individuals to develop a philosophy and approach to living that can increase their effectiveness and satisfaction at work, in living successfully with others, in parenting and educational settings, in making our community and environment healthier, and in enhancing their own emotional health and personal welfare.
REBT heralds a practical, action-oriented approach to coping with problems and enhancing personal growth. REBT places a good deal of its focus on the present: on currently held attitudes, painful emotions and maladaptive behaviors that can sabotage a fuller experience of life.

www.albertellis.org

I find Ellis refreshing in his down to earth, rather penetrating focus on the adverse effects of irrational thinking and ways of jettisoning it.

For my part, there is something more to Ellis’s “common sense” venture than getting people just to realize their irrational logic and then disabuse themselves of their likely imagined negative certainties. This something more is depth psychology and therapy through abreaction—the living through or reliving a traumatic moment in a person’s history so that the emotions attached to it can be re-experienced and released. Then the way is more clear to imagine, believe and think more optimistically, and detach from the toxic dogmas of the memory.

Stages of Motivation and Change

Two psychologists, Prochaska and DiClemente (1983), reveal five steps toward change: 

  1. Pre-contemplation (pre-speculation) “I’m not really aware of any needs or wish to change.” 
  2. Contemplation “Maybe I do want to change, to do something healthy, new, different. And maybe I have a problem, and maybe I don’t.” 
  3. Preparation/Determination/Decision “What can I do new and different?”
  4. Action “I am actively taking steps to change with a plan, and I am sticking to it.”
  5. Maintenance “I have achieved my primary goals and I am working to maintain my gains and successes.”

Having gotten some level of clarified goal and commitment, next comes affirmation of motives for change. Enumerating my specific reasons and benefits to change potentiates my commitment. Even keeping a “gratitude list” is a form of this.

The dynamic power of will and motivation, according to scholar, mystic and yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, progresses through four levels of increasing dynamism. A person may have a ‘wish’—only a helpless yearning. ‘Desire’ is a stronger wish, with perhaps off-and-on effort. ‘Intention’ (determination) is a definite, expressed strong desire, but however strong, there could be discouragement after several unsuccessful efforts. ‘Volition’ (will) seals the deal: “Will and act until victory”—the mind of efficacious activity.

“Gitter Done!”: The Four Ingredients of Recovery

The clinical therapy session is called by many a ‘dose’ of treatment. I encourage clients 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.

  Tapping into the steps C, D and E in the model above, I propose the following model (the Four Ingredients of Recovery). This journey becomes necessary only upon the recognition of a need for change. Before I decide and commit to change, I have to know what I want to change and what bothers me. I start with what new lifestyle I NEED because I am tired of my old habits and addictions.

  1. 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.
  2. Motivation: I keep telling myself the beneficial 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.
  3. Daily Programs and Habits of Self-Care/Self Treatment: I have new recovery habits that enable me to manifest the journey of health I have envisioned for myself.  (See worksheet below for more details.)
  4. 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. ( Jones, L. B. (2001). The path: Creating your mission statement for work and for life. Hachette Books.)

A WORKSHEET

  1. As a goal, my need is ______________________________  because I am tired of________________________________.
  2. Do I commit to my need?
    Yes: My reasons and motives for saying yes to my need. List your reasons:
    _______________________________________________
    _______________________________________________

    My everyday plan and program: (check your choices)
    ___I repeat my commitment and motives to myself.
    ___I study human growth and health.
    ___I have healthy food and beverages around the house.
    ___I talk to people who help me relax and stay true to my
          change.
    ___I take walks, hike or go to the gym.
    ___I read books that help me.
    ___I meditate.
    ___I practice stress/pain relief like breathing exercises, or isometrics (tense/release).
    ___I practice positive self-talk and encourage myself.
    ___I associate with alert, positive people.___I practice transcendence through activities to have high times (not drug or alcohol highs), and not just work, work, work.
    ___I use affirmations like: I choose to be free, true to myself, to be healthy. ( Fritz, R. (1989). The path of least resistance: Learning to become the creative force in your own life. Ballantine Books.)
    ___(Add your own.)
  3. What am I doing all this for anyway? The Bigger PictureMy Vision: The world I want to create for myself, family and others is ____________________________________
  4. My Mission: How I will bring my Vision to be is by _______________________________________________

Conclusion

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

Here are several sage remarks—bread for the journey.

  • “I proceeded to make the change. I cannot say that it consisted of any one step really — though one, of course, was the step beyond which I could make no return. But there were several acts involved. The first was the death of the overseer.” —Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
  • “I am not my mistakes. I am my possibilities.”
         —Read somewhere…
  • “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
  • “Study your habits, for they will become your character. Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny!”
         —Chinese proverb, author unknown
  • “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.
  • “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.” —C, G. Jung, in Aion, CW 9ii
  • “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 Descartes

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FINIS

A version of this essay was originally published October 3, 2011 at: http://www.santafe.com/blogs/read/life-problems-recovery#sthash.51pyqsmb.dpuf

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