We know that having authorship over one’s life is the only way to attain meaning and purpose in one’s life. We also know that the best way to stave off addiction is by leading a personally meaningful life. Most people who struggle with addiction issues have a difficult time with taking personal responsibility or authorship. This is because they tend to have an external orientation to the world and do not feel in control of themselves or their life as a result.
For example, they depend on others to make their decisions and substances to regulate their emotions. Couple this with the chaos that ensues in their addiction and often we see that families have stepped in to take care of everything. This is problematic because the family cannot ultimately control their loved one in addiction or recovery. Particularly as they enter into recovery and family members continue to try and control their loved one, there can be adverse effects. For this 4-week series I would like to address the following points of concern:
- The effects of doing everything for your loved one (pre- and post-treatment)
- When they’re starting something new (e.g. job, school, etc.)
- When they’re dealing with a problem/set back (experiencing consequences)
- How to demonstrate authorship in your own life?
The Effects of Doing Everything for Your Loved One
So what are the effects of doing everything for your loved one, pre-and post-treatment? While recognizing that this comes from a place of love, it is one of the most common and unhelpful things you can do for your loved one in addiction or recovery. If you do everything for them, they will have no ownership in their lives and no reason to take responsibility for themselves. For example, if you continually pay their rent because they blow their rent money on drugs, why would they bother doing it for themselves? This translates into post-treatment as well. I can imagine that if someone kept paying my rent for me, or doing all my paperwork for me, or doing all my chores for me, or… I wouldn’t argue! I am not saying that you should not help here and there; each situation is unique. But doing everything for another is not only tiring for you, but it also dampens their internal motivation to help themselves.
When They’re Starting Something New
How can family members encourage personal authorship when their loved one is starting something new, like a job or schooling?
In recovery, it is important to start into, or re-engage with, activities that are personally meaningful as soon as possible. Feeling one has a sense of meaning and purpose is the best relapse prevention strategy there is. Often our sense of meaning and purpose comes from the work we do or the schooling we enroll in. For this reason, it is important that whatever the work or schooling is, it comes from the person who is going to be doing it. They need to pick what is personally meaningful to them because only they know what is.
I can’t tell you how many clients I have met who said they were miserable with their job and that they only got into doing that career because their dad told them they should or their wife liked the income they made or any number of other scenarios that do not include the clients own personal values or preferences. This often comes about because the person never developed an awareness in themselves and so they lacked their own direction and relied on others to tell them what to do. We work with clients here at SCHC on developing their self-awareness.
We work with clients on developing their intrinsic motivation as well, the kind of motivation that comes from the inside. To be intrinsically motivated towards something, be it school or work or anything else, it needs to come from a connection to your true self and core values. Humans naturally like to feel useful and helpful and like they are contributing towards a greater good. We each have our unique way, small and large, of making a difference. Encouraging your loved ones to discover their way to contribute is the best support you can give.
It is also important to note that whether one finds one’s work meaningful is dependent on one’s interpretation. People in any position can potentially find meaning in their work. The key is to take personal responsibility for your own work and take pride in it. This is why we all know of examples of a janitor working minimum wage finding more meaning in their work than an investment banker. It is all in how we think about our work, and if we think we are contributing to the greater good in a meaningful way.
When They’re Dealing With a Problem/Setback
How can family members encourage personal authorship when their loved one is dealing with a problem or setback and experiencing the consequences of it?
It is easier to take personal authorship for your life when things are going well, but life doesn’t always go well. Taking authorship in tough times is the best (only) way to find meaning in our pain. When a well-balanced person has a problem or setback, and they experience some negative consequences, they take the opportunity to learn from their mistake and try to make changes so as to avoid a similar pitfall in the future. If a person’s loved ones are always swooping in and mitigating the negative consequences for them, how can they make this a learning opportunity? If they never get the gift of dealing with their own problems, they instead learn something to the effect of “I can’t be responsible for myself” or “My loved ones do not trust me to take care of myself”. If, however, they have the experience of having a setback and some negative consequences and being able to get through them and learn from the whole experience, this builds self-worth and trust in one’s own abilities.
This is not to say that families cannot help out, love, and support. Such is always welcome. It is just important to ensure that you are not overhelping. Particularly if this is your son, remember to give them the gift of adulthood. For couples, this is usually more complicated. Often the negative consequences from the partner’s setback directly affect their spouse and children. Like if the rent does not get paid or the main source of income is lost. In family situations like this the spouse may decide to move away or in with family and the person struggling in addiction is left to deal with the consequences on their own. In situations that involve children, the decisions need to be made with their best interests in mind.
In these very complicated and challenging times, the best way for you to encourage personal authorship in your loved ones is by not taking responsibility for them, and to letting them know that you love them and you believe in them and encourage them to take action to do the right thing in their life.
How Can You Demonstrate Authorship in Your Own Life?
The best way to encourage someone else to take responsibility for themselves is to take responsibility for yourself. So how can you demonstrate authorship in your own life? First, one must realize and embody the understanding that no matter what, one is always the author of one’s own life. Nothing can change this fact. No matter what you have been through or are up against, it is still you that make the decisions in your life. Even avoiding making a decision is a decision in itself! Authorship is taking ownership of your behaviour under all circumstances. Even when you are in a bad mood, remember, it is your bad mood! Realizing and living the reality that no one can force you to feel any particular way, even though it really seems that way sometimes. How you feel arises from your interpretation of an event, and you can change your interpretation.
A sure way to being unhappy is to focus on everything and everyone else to make you feel better. The only person who can control your feelings and thoughts is you. You can have optimism in spite of suffering. It depends on where you focus. If you always put yourself in the victim’s stance and ask why such and such has happened to you, you will feel powerless over your circumstances and life and your life will lack meaning. If, however, you ask what you can learn, how you can grow, how you can make sense of a challenging situation, you will feel empowered and that your life has meaning. Self-transcending in this way, rising above your suffering, is how one can find meaning under any circumstances.