This quote by Joseph Campbell is one I often use with clients. I present the quote, sit silent for a while and allow them to contemplate the words. The quote opens inner doors most of my clients have never entertained and we begin to explore what the words mean. At some point, a proposition is made as to whether they want to use their journey of addiction as this privilege of a lifetime.
There appears to be a bright side of addiction: an opportunity. It’s an opportunity in which many of my patients will say that they cannot and do not regret their walk through addiction because of who they become.
Language and perspective can make all the difference in overcoming addiction. And the good news is, we get to choose. Language and perception is a choice, as long as we have more than one option. Specializing in therapeutic mindfulness, working primarily with opiate addiction, my aim is to shift my clients’ perspective and language in the direction of empowerment.
Addiction can be perceived as a disempowering struggle or a personal challenge. When we perceive addiction from a lens of stress, difficulty and powerlessness, we can easily see a life that is overwhelming, and confusing about who we are and who we want to be – creating feelings of failure and helplessness.
Or, we can allow addiction to be a personal challenge as we stand on a cliff, looking out over the open sea to the distance mountains, with the mountains our destination. As we stand, we consider the journey that lies before us; one of opportunity, potential for a new future and the chance to expand the horizon of our life.
Addiction in this perspective becomes the journey of looking at our lives as a chance to master ourselves. It is what Joseph Campbell speaks of; to become the hero of our own lives. We start to call upon our inner warrior to help us along the way. Yes, we face fear and obstacles, but when we show up to those with courage and strength, instead of failure and helplessness, the entire game changes.
For most of my clients, in a very real way, their addiction was never a failure. It was simply a lack of education and awareness in some form: about life, the world and themselves. Think of it more as trying to win a battle without any skills, weapons and amulets – of course you will lose. And now, it’s simply time to learn.
Some of my male patients like to think of it as “boot camp,” entering their recovery with the same knowing and inner attitudes and mindset. They know it won’t be easy and it will be a test of their strengths and weaknesses. For them, it becomes a journey of courage and learning how to rise after the fall.
Overcoming addiction starts the inner travel of coming to know who you are, what you are capable of and questioning what you really want from life. It’s a journey into the depths of our own humanness. Addiction or not, I think we all get the opportunity, in our own way, when life provides us a gate to discover ourselves. To enter the gate is a privilege.
When new patients arrive to my office, I silently say, “Welcome to the greatest journey of your life.” There is nothing sick, diseased or wrong with this journey; it is an opportunity- and I become the travel agent helping them arrive to their destination.
To arrive successfully to their destination lies in the ability to prepare, know their internal and external resources, learn to use them, become skillful and travel with empowered people who inspire, and call forth all that is right with them. I sometimes use the words of my mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, “If you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong with you.”
I invite clients to walk with empowerment–to warrior up–looking at the terrain of their lives. I ask if they want to enter the arena. And if they choose to do so, we begin the practice of using their inner swords of courage and strength.
Not everyone who enters my office wants to walk through their addiction in this way. There is no right or wrong; there are many ways to cross the open sea. It simply becomes a choice of how you want to travel and with whom you want to travel.
As with any travel, we start by assessing challenges and opportunities. Clients don’t have to know exactly what is on the other side of that open sea and they won’t because they haven’t been there yet. But they do need some idea and inner vision about what they hope is over there. This inner vision helps guide the journey and helps the traveler take advantage of opportunities that arrive along the way.
They will need to see impending challenges,and prepare as much as possible. Their external equipment becomes the people, places, and things to support this journey to new territory and a new life. Inner equipment starts by asking: “What can you do to create more opportunities for inner strength, self-respect and self-exploration?”
Traveling in an empowered way gives individuals the chance to know the part of themselves that is capable of overcoming obstacles that inherently have no power or meaning other than what they give it. Giving power to these obstacles leads to disempowerment by the sheer notion that we’ve given our power away.
One of the greatest gifts I see from clients who travel this way is how they walk in the world with greater wisdom, courage, and a depth of human understanding. I am more inspired by my clients than most of the general public I meet every day. I’m not saying we all need to become addicted to have greater wisdom. Wisdom is an equal opportunity employer, graciously presenting gates of privilege in different ways, but the gifts are awarded to those who enter.
If you can choose to see overcoming addiction as a personal challenge, use empowered language, an inspired perception, you will get the chance to see the entire journey of addiction as the privilege of a lifetime.